Stepin Fetchit (1902–1985) rose from medicine show performer to Hollywood’s highest paid and most popular African American actor of the 1930s. But the actor’s postwar downfall was no less dramatic, as his on-screen portrayals of shuffling, slow-witted minstrel types were increasingly seen as anachronistic and offensive to progressive audiences, while at the same time his defiantly flamboyant lifestyle was an affront to racist sensibilities. Mel Watkins’s new biography Stepin Fetchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry (Pantheon Books, 2005) is the first full-scale portrait of one of cinema’s most colorful and complex performers, revealing him to be a masterful satirist with a wily, rebellious nature, and providing a radical reevaluation of his contribution to American culture. Following the 6:00 p.m. program on October 19, Watkins signs copies of his biography.
Organized by Joshua Siegel, Assistant Curator, Department of Film and Media.