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Racism in German and American Cinema of the Twenties: From The Ancient Law to The Jazz Singer – with Charles Musser
Mecklenburg, Frank
Musser, Charles
Date Created and/or Issued
Contributing Institution
UC San Diego, Library, Digital Library Development Program
Holocaust Living History Workshop
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Under copyright
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The problematic of assimilation is central to modern Jewish history. In E. A. Dupont’s silent film "The Ancient Law" (1923), the Orthodox Jew Baruch Mayer leaves Galicia for Vienna, where he pursues a career in acting. "The Jazz Singer" (1927), Alan Crosland’s pioneering sound film, is a loose adaptation of "The Ancient Law" with a twist. The film’s main character is played by the American Jewish actor Al Jolson, who performs in blackface. Initially praised by many African-Americans, "The Jazz Singer" has recently been disparaged as racist. In this lecture Professor Charles Musser addresses the historical and the contemporary perspectives on both films. He situates the two films in the wider context of the cinema of the 1920s, and he considers how each film addresses antisemitism as well as the burning question of the history of blackface as a theatrical convention. Musser is a professor of American Studies, Film & Media Studies and Theatre Studies at Yale University and the author of numerous articles and books including the prize-winning "The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907." The lecture is followed by a panel discussion moderated by Frank Mecklenburg (Leo Baeck Institute, New York) and features Deborah Hertz (UC San Diego), Paul Lerner (University of Southern California), and Cynthia Walk (Emeritus, UC San Diego).
Digital Library Development Program, UC San Diego, La Jolla, 92093-0175 (
moving image
The Jazz Singer (Motion picture)
The Ancient Law (Motion picture)
Early cinema
Jolson, Al
Musser, Charles

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