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The CCCHP Visits DMU!

On Saturday 9th of March, the Coventry Caribbean Community History Project (or, CCCHP) were invited to take a tour through the De Montfort University (DMU) Special Collections archive and the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre (SLRC).

We launched the CCCHP in January 2024. The aim of the project is to provide research and curation skills to young Black people in Coventry, enabling them to contribute to the creation of a live community-based exhibition. The project engages directly with contemporary historical recovery praxis, to assemble a history by us, for us. The CCCHP facilitator is one of the ACT coordinators, Holly Cooper, who is a History DPhil student at the University of Oxford, who’s thesis directly aligns with the aim of the project.

Part of the programme is dedicated to archival training, ensuring our researchers are confident and able to address the archives, as well as being aware of their potentials and limitations. To do this, we were lucky enough to spend the morning with the wonderful Katharine Short, who is the Archives Manager at DMU. 

We began by viewing the SLRC’s permanent exhibition on the life of Stephen Lawrence, the case surrounding his murder, and what came as a result of this tragedy. It is an incredibly heartfelt, emotional, but inspiring exhibition, that beautifully illustrates the four key themes of the Centre: 1) Histories and cultures of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in the UK, 2) The concept and practice of institutional racism, 3) Denials of justice, 4) The social psychology of racial violence. As a project, we are inspired by this work and endeavour to embed these practices in our own work.

From this, our group had the opportunity to learn more about the work of the Special Collections Archive, which led to discussions around the ethics of collecting, managing, and approaching Black community archives, the handling of ‘problematic’ materials in a productive and meaningful way, and the actual assembly of archives that contain the stories of historically marginalised groups. As a group, we were also presented with some materials that relate to this work, and each student was tasked to pick one item and write a short primary source analysis around it. 

We want to share our findings with the wider community, and so we have constructed a short series of blog posts, hosted by the ArawaK Community Trust, St Mary’s Guildhall, and the DMU Special Collections platforms. Each blog post is dedicated to a different CCCHP 23/24 researcher, so make sure to check out each one! In this post, we will be sharing Akasha Daley’s analysis of the 1956 Picture Show Annual (ref.ADA 791.43/PIC). 

“This is an annual guide to all things cinema in 1956. It includes: information on prominent actors, insight into their private lives and on-screen rumours, details on emerging technology, such as camera lenses and types of shot, and a breakdown of the popular films of the time. When a new film is introduced in the annual, it gives a synopsis, brief enough to engage potential viewers and give a reminder to those who had already seen the film without providing spoilers. With the dissection of each film, the annual shows each frame captioned with who is present. On later pages, depending on the film, sometimes it includes information about who designed the clothes, or it would make fashion predictions based on how the film was received and the popularity of the actor fashioning the piece. It is densely filled with photography and accompanying text.

The annual was physically in good condition but some of the middle pages (which were signed photocopied portraits of actors) were loose, which I believe were to be put onto the walls of the target audience – which I assume was young people. But maybe those pages have just become loose naturally over time as there are portraits still held within the binding of the book? What else makes me think that the annual is directed toward a younger audience is that in the part on fashion it explains the social importance of keeping up with trends and what products should be brought to look like a certain actor like lipstick, hair pomade, jackets etc.

I think the annual also aimed to demystify the celebrity and rehumanise them as it showed never before seen images of actors enjoying time with their families. It really worked to promote the image of one actor as a doting father to bypass his onscreen villainy. So from that, I also guess that fans of his would purchase the annual knowing that something about him is in there.

There are many depictions and descriptions of different groups that are very derogatory - women are very objectified and within that Black, Asian and Latinx women are exoticised and fetishised. One actor is described as having started her career after being repeatedly shamed by her father for years and called an “ugly rabbit”, which creates the impression a woman’s value is mainly based on their appearance then knowledge. That is quite visible when you look at the backdrops the women are placed in front of with Black women often placed in tropical/ jungle scenes. Latinx people often fill the role of a poor English speaking (for cinematic effect) seducer. Which links to the questions… who was cast and in what?

Pilar Del Rey in “Tropic Zone”. 

Asian women are Orientalised and written about in a different Eastern-style font and were cast commonly in roles aiding American GIs. This is contextualised by a spark of interest in Asian women after the American liberation efforts across the Asian continent in WW2. Also, the incoming influx of war brides to the states during this period, as a result of the Vietnam/ Korean wars, these films helped to romanticise making the wars more digestible to a domestic audience. A lot of actors changed their names to assimilate, which the annual includes, e.g. Anne Bancroft formerly Anne Italiano. It doesn’t mention actors who would’ve changed their identities more drastically to assimilate with name changes or even cosmetic procedures done in order to pass. There are no black males present and if there ‘were’ it was someone in Black face either an American white or Latinx man. Poor people are made fun of and shown in the most caricature-ish ways to show their poverty.”

You can find the other primary source reviews on the St Mary’s Guildhall blog and the DMU Special Collections blog. You can also find out more about the project by following us on Twitter/X @CCCHProject.

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