June 6, 2001
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v2.1 Reference

Framing the South

Hollywood, Television, and Race during the Civil Rights Struggle

What patterns emerge in media coverage and character depiction of Southern men and women, blacks and whites, in the years between 1954 and 1976? How do portrayals of the region and the equal rights movement illuminate the spirit and experience of the South—and of the nation as a whole? In Framing the South, Allison Graham examines the ways in which the media, particularly television and film, presented Southerners during the period of the civil rights revolution.

Graham analyzes depictions of southern race and social class in a wide range of Hollywood films—including A Streetcar Named Desire, The Three Faces of Eve, and A Face in the Crowd from the 1950s; later films like Cool Hand Luke, In the Heat of the Night, and Mississippi Burning; and MGM's Elvis Presley vehicles. She traces how films have confronted—or avoided—issues of racism over the years, paralleling Hollywood depictions with the tamer characterization of the likeable "hillbilly" popularized in television's The Real McCoys and The Andy Griffith Show. Graham reinforces the political impact of these fictional representations by examining media coverage of civil rights demonstrations, including the documentary Crisis: Behind the Presidential Commitment, which reported the clash between Robert Kennedy and Governor George Wallace over the integration of the University of Alabama. She concludes with a provocative analysis of Forrest Gump, identifying the popular film as a retelling of post-World War II Southern history.

About the Author

Allison Graham, winner of the Erik Barnouw Award of the Organization of American Historians in 1994, is a professor of media and communication studies at the University of Memphis.


A resourceful, imaginative, sure-handed analysis by an author who knows both how movies and television get made and how to get at what those products mean.

- Thomas Cripps - Journal of Southern History

This text would be an excellent place for readers who have very little background in film or media history to begin delving into the ongoing discussion of how much reality drives media and how much media drives reality.

- Dana L. Hettich - Southern Historian

The best book I have found that discusses popular cinema and the American South... Graham's is a groundbreaking study that locates both blacks and whites in post-World War II cultural history. Her scholarly monograph contributes significantly to historical and film studies... Graham's book is lively, aesthetically informed, and teeming with insightful observations about a variety of topics: white women in race-conscious films; the 'anarchic physicality' of the redneck; the centrality of the 'cracker' to our understanding of American racism; the southern delinquent as social activist; the corrupt southern lawman and the redemptive southern lawyer.

- Sharon Monteith - Scope

Provides a perfect critical lens through which to appreciate what lies behind all the representations of the South flashing across the screen... In this meticulously researched and accessibly written book, [Allison Graham] covers such issues as the eugenics movement and class politics, white women's sexuality, the star personae of Elvis and Andy Griffith, and the political power of Southern populists. Her methodology is part of what makes the book so readable: it's interdisciplinary but not jargon-laden, drawing on the most exciting recent academic studies in cinema, culture, class, history, sociology, whiteness, gender, sexuality, and politics. The close readings in the book are never so detailed that they become tedious, but even for readers unfamiliar with the primary sources, Graham's analysis is persuasive and fascinating to read. There is no way to adequately summarize all the ingenious bits of reading pleasure in this book.

- Julia Leyda - Bright Lights Film Journal

Provides detailed analysis of interactions among race, gender, and, crucially, class, often neglected in cultural studies. It draws upon an enormous range of evidence. Seemingly unlikely material such as 1950s films on teenage delinquency is convincingly woven into the analysis... Not least, the book is leavened with humor in a way that makes the argument more compelling... This book provides new insights, showing how varied and subtle is the encoding of major events and struggles. The argument is complex yet accessible, making it an invaluable teaching aid. It is a major contribution to scholarship on racism and the civil rights movement in America.

- John A. Silk - Journal of American History

Probing, provocative, lively... Graham's often original readings and entertaining renderings [of films and television shows]... chart the tangled route whereby race becomes subsumed by class and then rediscovered. She reaches widely in her literary, film, and television references, which she juxtaposes with civil rights events to suggest how the former 'framed' the latter but also how film and television fiction sometimes offered a competing narrative as to race and civil rights... Graham has written a book very much worth reading. It is at once entertaining and instructive, and it makes 'real' the reel South as no other book to date.

- Randall M. Miller - American Historical Review

In a series of interlocking essays, Graham deftly explores the ways Hollywood filmmakers and television producers tried to reformulate stock southern characters in light of rapidly changing social relations... A fascinating and compelling cultural history that should be of use to a wide array of scholars.

- Patrick D. Jones - American Studies

Perceptive... A sophisticated analysis of films produced during the civil rights era... Readers who wish to understand the ways popular media buttress conservative assessments of race in American life will do well to digest Graham's helpful volume.

- Andrew M. Manis - Georgia Historical Quarterly


In her subtle readings of 1950s and 1960s films, Allison Graham reveals in Framing the South how Hollywood has portrayed and manipulated southerners. Whether discussing whiteness, racial boundaries, Elvis Presley movies, African Americans, or poor whites, Graham has a keen analytical eye for class and gender. Framing the South explains Hollywood's perplexing use of southern stereotypes and thus makes a major contribution to post-World War II cultural history.

- Pete Daniel, Curator of the Division of the History of Technology, National Museum of American History

By offering a compelling analysis of the films and television programs that dealt—explicitly and implicitly—with the turbulent racial situation in the postwar South, Allison Graham illuminates the process by which competing narratives of the region's civil rights convulsions have become inscribed in national and regional consciousness. An innovative, engaging and deeply insightful book, Framing the South should find an appreciative audience among those interested in the relationship between media, culture, and the African American freedom struggle.

- Brian WardUniversity of Florida, author of Just My Soul Responding: Rhythm and Blues, Black Consciousness and Race Relations

An exceptionally entertaining study, Framing the South is ambitious in its coverage of both film and television. Graham effectively situates this material in terms of the civil rights struggle and the public discourse about American racism. This is a substantial work of scholarship covering a crucial aspect of American politics and culture in the twentieth century.

- Gregory A. WallerUniversity of Kentucky, author of Main Street Amusements: Movies and Commercial Entertainment in a Southern City, 1896-1930

She restores to our field of view media texts of real complexity that have been overlooked by previous analyses... An often poetic and crisply edited long essay.

- Kevin Jack Hagopian - Journal of Communication
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