The Celluloid South

Hollywood and the Southern Myth

  • Author(s): Campbell, Edward D.C.
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 0000-00-00
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $19.95 | Buy Now

The “southern” – as much a Hollywood genre as the “western” – is the subject of The Celluloid South. For decades the film industry, to provide profit-making entertainment, offered the public movies that neither raised difficult issues nor offended a majority of the ticket-buyers. As a result, Hollywood romanticized the south, particularly the antebellum era, in hundreds of films like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone With the Wind, Birth of a Nation, and Jezebel. During the 1920’s and especially the Depression, the “moonlight and magnolia” romances increased to such an extent that Hollywood has been struggling since the late forties to rid films of the traditional images of the “southern.”

In his exploration of the “southern,” Edward D.C. Campbell, Jr. examines the film plots and images – their social, literary, and historical origins, and their impact on the creation of a popular mythology of the south. The unrealistic but seemingly harmless characterizations of a planter society, and agricultural economy, and especially slavery have hindered the region’s self-assessment and warped the nation’s perspective on race.

Campbell looks beyond the productions themselves, however, to advertising techniques and the reactions of the viewers and reviewers in his examination of the “southern,” its popularity and its decline, and its influence of the public’s conception of history, contemporary conditions, and black/white relations.

The Celluloid South is not a study of film per se, but of film as a reflection of society and the ramifications inherent in popular entertainment. Readers interested in southern history, popular culture, or cinema studies, as well as movie fans, will find The Celluloid South a fascinating look at Hollywood’s development of the southern myth. Thirty-one film stills illustrate the text.

Dr. Campbell is director of the Museum of the Confederacy and an adjunct member of the English and history faculties at Virginia Commonwealth University.