Date of Degree

9-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Theatre

Advisor

Marvin Carlson

Committee Members

James Wilson

Joe McElhaney

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Art Practice | Arts and Humanities | Cultural History | Ethnic Studies | Ethnomusicology | Indigenous Studies | Music Performance | Music Practice | Oral History | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Other Film and Media Studies | United States History

Keywords

Black Indians, Jazz Funerals, Carnival Balls, Mardi Gras, Voodoo, Media Studies

Abstract

In this dissertation, I consider New Orleans a case study to explore the interdependence of gender and race and of the performative and the cinematic. New Orleans offers itself for such an investigation because throughout its history so often the city has been the center of media attention and because racialized and gendered identities are driving forces in its performance cultures.

The rise of film to a major entertainment industry and the rise of New Orleans’s prominent performance traditions—white-dominated carnival balls, Voodoo rituals, Black Indian processions, and jazz funerals—to major civic rituals historically coincide. When, after the Civil War Jim Crow laws began to segregate the city, carnival festivities, jazz, and Black Indian parades exploded as performative responses to these social shifts. As early as 1926, film crews captured carnival parties and parades, setting the trend of portraying New Orleans as a highly theatricalized urban space, a stage and a screen for celebrating role-play and fantasies that promulgated, or at times even challenged, racialized social hierarchies. Since those early documentations these performance traditions have inspired very distinct treatment and coverage by fiction and/or documentary filmmakers, leading to complex negotiations between performers and filmmakers as to how the former are to be portrayed.

Arguing that the positions of power or resistance to oppression the performance traditions celebrate are intertwined with their representations in the media, over the four chapters, I map portrayals of New Orleans—feature films, documentaries, TV shows, Web-based videos, and photos—and its performance cultures from the end of the nineteenth century to the media frenzy of the Hurricane Katrina era. Highlighting one performance tradition in each chapter, I combine field and archival research with cultural theories to contextualize how this dynamic of depiction and experience, performance and mediatization shapes the city’s social structure.

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