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02-Slavery and American Culture
The recent commercial and critical success of mainstream films exploring the institution of slavery marks not only a heightened public interest in slavery's history, but also the divergent approaches to that history that cultural producers take. Whether an epic drama like 12 Years a Slave or a "spaghetti western" satire like Django Unchained, contemporary filmmakers have reminded us that there are no hard and fast rules regarding the representation of slavery. Indeed, as one of the most enduring themes in American culture and literature, slavery has always received diverse and often contradictory renderings. This seminar examines a broad array of these representations—including blackface minstrelsy, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, drama of the Black Arts Movement, Ishmael Reed'sFlight to Canada, the art of Kara Walker, Toni Morrison's A Mercy, and the poetry of Evie Shockley and Terrance Hayes—in order to explore how aesthetic and narrative treatments of slavery provide the occasion to grapple with meanings of American freedom, democracy, historical trauma, and personal difference, among other pressing concerns.

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Statue of "Willie the Silent"