October 24, 2016
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Divas on Screen: Black Women in American Film

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY—Vassar College Associate Professor of Film, Mia Mask’s book Divas on Screen: Black Women in American Film, has just been released by the University of Illinois Press.


Divas on Screen is an accessible and insightful look at five African American film icons: Dorothy Dandridge, Pam Grier, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Halle Berry. Mask examines how these female stars have navigated the uneven terrain of racial, gender, and class stereotypes.


Ed Guerrero, author of Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film noted that in Divas on Screen, “Mia Mask deftly weaves the lines of inquiry, theory, popular culture, and history while making the complex lives of these amazing, charismatic black women accessible and understandable in fresh conceptual ways.”


Through the careful examination of previously under-analyzed films, Mask reconsiders the function of the fives stars, including: 

  • Dandridge's status as a sexual commodity in films such as Tamango, revealing the contradictory discourses regarding race and sexuality in segregation-era American culture;
  • Grier's feminist-camp performances in sexploitation pictures Women in Cages and The Big Doll House and her subsequent blaxploitation vehicles Coffy and Foxy Brown highlight a similar tension between representing African American women as both objectified stereotypes and powerful, self-defining icons;
  • Goldberg's transforming habits in Sister Act and The Associate as representative of her unruly comedic routines;
  • Winfrey's daily television performance as self-made, self-help guru echoes Horatio Alger's narratives of success;
  • and an analysis of Berry's meteoric success by acknowledging the ways in which Dandridge's career made Berry's possible.


"An original and imaginative work that is full of intellectual energy, insight, and engaged writing."--Hazel V. Carby, author of Cultures in Babylon: Black Britain and African America.

For additional information about Divas on Screen, see the University of Illinois Press websitehttp://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/67zyp9kh9780252034220.html.


Mia Mask, Associate Professor of Film at Vassar, received her Ph.D. from New York University. Before coming to Vassar in 2000, she taught Film Studies at The College of Staten Island-CUNY, graduate Media Studies at The New School, and Film History at Tufts University, where she was a Multicultural Teaching Fellow. In the spring of 2003, she was a Visiting Professor of Film Studies at Yale University. She has twice been a visiting scholar at New York University. Mask teaches African American cinema, documentary film history, horror film, feminist film theory, African national cinemas, and genre theory.


Formerly an assistant editor and regular contributor at Cineaste magazine, Mask has written film reviews and covered festivals for IndieWire.com, The Village VoiceAbafazi: Simmons College JournalFilm QuarterlyTime Out New YorkBrooklyn Woman, and The Poughkeepsie Journal. Her criticism was anthologized in Best American Movie Writing, 1999.


Her scholarly essays are published in the African American National BiographyScreen Stars of the 1990sFilm and Literature, and American Cinema of the 1970s. She is editing an anthology entitled Black American Cinema Reconsidered. Her television interviews include appearances on The Full Nelson and "American Movie Classics."


In 2006, 2007 and 2008, Mask served at the Institute of International Education as a member of the National Screening Committee assembled to select Fulbright scholars.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

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