"A faint, wry, bitter smile" : Richard Wright and media representations of African Americans

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Peter Wall Smith (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site: http://library.wcu.edu/
Annette Debo

Abstract: Richard Wright’s major works of the early 1940s—Native Son (1940) and 12 Million BlackVoices (1941)—protest the racism of the mainstream media and advance positive images ofAfrican American life. Through his exploration of the media’s power, he depicts the human tollcaused in a historical moment when visual images were gaining currency and presents alternativerepresentations that accurately depict black life. In this thesis, I identify and analyze the waysWright challenges representations of African Americans across film, print media, andphotography. In Native Son, Wright protests media representations of African Americans byhighlighting the demonization of Bigger Thomas by the mainstream media. 12 Million BlackVoices complements Native Son through its effort to realistically portray African Americans. Myfirst chapter explores Bigger Thomas’s experience as an audience member of Trader Horn,through which Wright demonstrates that Hollywood representations of African Americansdeceive black people into entering an inherently unfair racial and economic system only topunish them for attempting to cross racial and economic boundaries. In my second chapter, Iargue that Bigger’s journalistic treatment dehumanizes him and convinces white society of thenecessity of his execution. In this way, Wright suggests that newspapers possess a kind of legalauthority over black life. The final chapter of my thesis examines the significance of photography in Wright’s 1941 photobook 12 Million Black Voices. In this work, Wright utilizesFarm Security Administration photographs—taken by white photographers—to replace negativemainstream representations of African Americans with positive and realistic representations ofblack life through the history of black people in the United States from the beginning of slaveryup until his present day. In this way, Wright challenges white supremacy by recontextualizingAfrican Americans within African American history.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2016
African American Literature, Civil Rights, Jim Crow, Marxism, Media, Richard Wright
Wright, Richard, 1908-1960 -- Criticism and interpretation
African Americans in mass media
Wright, Richard, 1908-1960. Native son
Wright, Richard, 1908-1960. 12 million black voices
American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism
African American men in literature
African Americans -- Social conditions
United States -- Race relations

Email this document to