The Problem of the Color[blind]

Racial Transgression and the Politics of Black Performance
Brandi Wilkins Catanese
How the debate on colorblind versus multicultural casting sheds light on on larger sociopolitical questions


Are we a multicultural nation, or a colorblind one? The Problem of the Color[blind] examines this vexed question in American culture by focusing on black performance in theater, film, and television. The practice of colorblind casting—choosing actors without regard to race—assumes a performing body that is somehow race neutral. But where, exactly, is race neutrality located—in the eyes of the spectator, in the body of the performer, in the medium of the performance? In analyzing and theorizing such questions, Brandi Wilkins Catanese explores a range of engaging and provocative subjects, including the infamous debate between playwright August Wilson and drama critic Robert Brustein, the film career of Denzel Washington, Suzan-Lori Parks's play Venus, the phenomenon of postblackness (as represented in the Studio Museum in Harlem's "Freestyle" exhibition), the performer Ice Cube's transformation from icon of gangsta rap to family movie star, and the controversial reality television series Black. White. Concluding that ideologies of transcendence are ahistorical and therefore unenforceable, Catanese advances the concept of racial transgression—a process of acknowledging rather than ignoring the racialized histories of performance—as her chapters move between readings of dramatic texts, films, popular culture, and debates in critical race theory and the culture wars.

"Catanese's beautifully written and cogently argued book addresses one of the most persistent sociopolitical questions in contemporary culture. She suggests that it is performance and the difference it makes that complicates the terms by which we can even understand 'multicultural' and 'colorblind' concepts. A tremendously illuminating study that promises to break new ground in the fields of theatre and performance studies, African American studies, feminist theory, cultural studies, and film and television studies."
—Daphne Brooks, Princeton University

"Adds immeasurably to the ways in which we can understand the contradictory aspects of racial discourse and performance as they have emerged during the last two decades.  An ambitious, smart, and fascinating book."
—Jennifer DeVere Brody, Duke University

Brandi Wilkins Catanese is Associate Professor of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies and African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Praise / Awards

  • "Beautifully written and cogently argued, Racial Transgressions addresses one of the most persistent socio-political questions in contemporary culture: 'are we a multicultural nation, or a colorblind one?' A tremendously illuminating study that promises to break new ground in the fields of theater and performance studies, African American Studies, feminist theory, cultural studies, and film and television studies."
    —Daphne Brooks, Princeton University

  • "The Problem of the Color[blind] is a timely, well-written book that will appeal to students and scholars of African American theatre and performance studies, as well as those who are interested in critical race theory."
    Theatre Journal
  • "Green does more than merely enable the reader to understand the development and conventions of a popular literary genre. Rather, he employs that genre as a lens through which to view the larger processes by which authors, printers, and political elites came to understand print's potential to reify or undermine..."
    Sixteenth Century Journal
  • "The majesty of Catanese’s book anchors itself in her shift away from the history and mechanics of nontraditional casting and in her critical engagement with the concept of colorblindness." 
    --Harvey Young, Theatre History Studies

  • Runner-up for the Errol Hill Award from the American Society for Theatre Research

Look Inside

Copyright © 2011, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 244 pages.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2012
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02792-7

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  • Nontraditional casting; colorblind casting; black performance; colorblindness; race; multiculturalism; post-black; Wilson-Brustein debate; Suzan-Lori Parks; politics of representation; Black. White. reality tv show