Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom

by Daphne A. Brooks


In Bodies in Dissent, Daphne A. Brooks argues that from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth, black transatlantic activists, actors, singers, and other entertainers frequently transformed the alienating conditions of social and political marginalization into modes of self-actualization through performance. Brooks considers the work of African American, Anglo, and racially ambiguous performers in a range of popular entertainment, including racial melodrama, spectacular theatre, moving panorama exhibitions, Pan-Africanist musicals, Victorian magic shows, religious and secular song, spiritualism, and dance. She describes how these entertainers experimented with different ways of presenting their bodies in public — through dress, movement, and theatrical technologies — to defamiliarize the spectacle of “blackness” in the transatlantic imaginary.

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