Is Neo, mankind’s savior in The Matrix, the child of a black father and white mother? What is the subtext behind Gone With the Wind heroine Scarlett O’Hara’s bi-raciality? While Mixed Race Hollywood, edited by Mary Beltran and Camilla Fojas, is not a gossipy series of racially “outing” stars, it is an immensely readable interrogation of contemporary representations of multi-racial characters and inter-racial relationships in film, television, and popular culture.
Written by scholars from film studies and American studies, this collection of essays leaves no genre unturned, from Westerns, sci-fi, horror, Blaxploitation, to Disney and stars like Jessica Alba, Vin Diesel, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Keanu Reeves—with, of course, two full essays about The Matrix.
The introduction gives a concise rundown of the different terminology associated with the subject, and then delves into a straightforward presentation of the dynamic historical relationship between anti-miscegenation legislation, major television and film studio codes dictating the kinds of romance depicted onscreen, and the representations of mixed race people and interracial love that pervade pop culture.
Accounting for different specific political and historical contexts for these representations, some essays demonstrate how Native American, Mexican and Asian characters mixed with white Americans often represent the possibility for successful assimilation, national reunification of territory after war, or even U.S. global dominance.
Other writers articulate through a pointed analysis how even though mixed-race representations of Black characters have become more complicated than the tragic mulatto to include strong, heroic and indomitable figures, they nevertheless reinforce enduring racial stereotypes. Contemporary images of mixed-race characters are cast throughout this collection in a very contradictory light. On the one hand, some posit that many of these favorable representations of mixed race characters are a sign of progress. One author presents a study of an internet website where fans celebrate the multi-racial background of stars and at times “out” stars as mixed race.
But many of the authors in the collection assert that we are far from a post-racial society. For example, one argument is that even within these positive images, traditional valorizations of whiteness continue to frame these actors so that they must compose themselves as “white enough” – lest their accomplishments pose any threat to a shaky, white-dominated social, political, and economic order. Some essays further this by demonstrating the anxieties around racial purity and maintaining a white-dominated social order that are still present in the subtext to a great number of films.
A recurring theme throughout the essays in Mixed Race Hollywood is how images of interracial relationships and multi-racial people have shifted not only as social norms evolved, but these groundbreaking representations arguably have also played a significant role in being an agent for changing attitudes. But the collection also leaves readers wondering about how representations of mixed-race people are being used today to stand as the proof of racial progress even as racism and injustice .