Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film
Smiling Faces: Chameleon Street and Black Performativity
This chapter discusses Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s Chameleon Street (1989) and the ways the film stages racial passing in the key of racial performativity. The film’s protagonist (Douglas Street) does not impersonate in the classical sense of racial passing pathologies. His passing and mimicry as performative act occur as a signifying menace, a threat to the categorical regimes of race and being. The chapter also addresses the relative absence of significant attention to Chameleon Street especially in relationship to the black film explosion of 1991. This involves reading the film’s inability to gain favor critically or financially as an independent film, as an art film, or as a black film by contextualizing it within the historiography of 1991 as a sign of dispute with the popular and delimiting assessments of black film.