From disease incubation to disease receipt: Representing epidemics and race in pre- and post-second world war American cinema (1931–1939 and 1950–1962)

Phạm Thùy Dung, Daniel R. Curtis*, Qijun Han

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

This article analyses continuities and changes in how disease has been instrumentalised in cinema as a way of conceptualizing race—comparing five films depicting epidemics produced before the Second World War and five after. In the 1930s films, non-white populations often passively accept assistance in dealing with epidemic disease—a paternalistic white savior narrative—but not always with “gratitude”, and sometimes direct resistance. Here, epidemics take root in physical sites of economic “underdevelopment”, perpetuated further by perceived “premodern” cultural practices demarcated down the lines of race or ethnicity, and intersect with other gendered and socio-economic categories. After the war, while some cinematic tropes such as the “white knight” continue, other narratives emerge including a shift in emphasis away from the Othered environment as the nexus of disease (the disease’s “incubation”), and towards greater alarm about the appearance of disease within recipient, frequently white, communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Media History
Volume26
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2023

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  • ESHCC HIS

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