March 2003

The Encyclopedia of Ethnic Groups in Hollywood
(Facts on File, Inc., 640 pages, $19.95)
By James Robert Parish
Associate editor, Allen Taylor

Here it is, "Chan, Charlie." Now we can navigate the labyrinth of which Caucasian actor played the "Honolulu-based Chinese sleuth ... with an overabundance of offspring and aphorisms" and in which film.

And here, under Alice Adams (1935), Hattie McDaniel's brilliant performance in George Stevens' jewel is generously described; its significance noted, for "...rarely had Hollywood ... presented ... an African-American [domestic] as defiant toward her employers."

This hefty reference book looks at Hollywood's motion picture and television treatment of five ethnic groups: African-Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Jewish Americans, and Native Americans. (Perhaps another volume will treat Middle Eastern, Irish, Italian and other nationalities' screen depictions.)

The Jolson Story (1946) is cited as being "unusual" for a "big-budgeted mainstream studio picture in the mid-1940s." It not only said, "that [Al] Jolson was Jewish," but showed "the trappings of religious ethnics" when such screen biographies "either ignored or glossed over the [Jewish] celebrity's heritage."

Entries for directors' specific films often reveal increasing sensitivity toward minorities — e.g., the difference between John Ford's Fort Apache (1948) and Broken Arrow (1950) in emphasizing "the Native American point of view..."

This is a vitally important book whose time has come. It analyzes and dissects the way Hollywood has been growing in its treatment of minorities.

Review written by Lisa Mitchell


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