Taking the cue from the recent Netflix adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella Passing, this course will explore the visual culture of the Harlem Renaissance and its legacy and reconstruction in more recent visual and cinematic texts. How is the visual language that was developed during the Harlem Renaissance adapted and re-interpreted in later depictions of this era of African American cultural and political creativity? How are the concepts of race, class, gender and sexuality that inform the Harlem Renaissance translated into later contexts?
We will study Harlem Renaissance photographers like James Van Der Zee, Roy de Cavara, Carl Van Vechten, Gordon Parks, James Latimer Allen, and learn about the aesthetics and racial politics of African American urban photography. We will study Larsen’s Passing and other texts, and their literary contribution to the creation of Harlem Renaissance imagery.
Finally, with a short view on early Black cinema production, we will focus on three important films that retrospectively interpret the Harlem Renaissance: Looking for Langston (Isaac Julien, 1989), Brother to Brother (Rodney Evans, 2004), and Passing (Rebecca Hall, 2021).
Emphasis in this course will be both on techniques of visual and literary images and their interpretation, and on the politics of race, gender, sexuality, and cultural memory. Students should be in possession of a copy of Larsen’s Passing by the beginning of the semester, and be familiar with the Netflix adaptation.