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date: 21 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The career of acclaimed tap dancer Jeni LeGon is remarkable not only for her style but also for the ways in which she navigated the racial politics of the 1930s Hollywood film industry. This chapter examines how identity politics affected LeGon’s movements on and off both stage and screen. Hollywood lacked the political will to commit to LeGon, but she countered with a black will to maintain control and subjectivity. As a light-complexioned African American woman cast in a variety of ethnic roles she demonstrates the fungibility of black and brown bodies. When she presented as both cutesy and powerhouse, and when she performed male lines of business in pants, she troubled conceptions of gender. That the same body read subservient in white films and leading lady in black films tells us about not only the practices of an industry but also the audience’s phenomenological experiences of race.

Keywords: Jeni LeGon, identity politics, political will, black will, Hollywood, tap dance, African American, gender, race, black films

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