The Black Experience in 1960s Czechoslovak Cinema Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading...
2 thoughts on “The Black Experience in 1960s Czechoslovak Cinema”
Hi Gareth – thanks for sharing such an interesting body of research. I’m really interested in the attempts by the Communist regime to create a ‘colour-blind’ society and to what extent this succeeded, especially in light of what you say about representations of hypersexuality and musicality – common themes in representation of Black men in colonial Anglo-European societies (and indeed to the present day). By extension, how do you feel about the problematics of the term ‘colour-blind society’ both at the time and today?
Czechoslovak propaganda took aim at the segregationist policies of the United States, as well as the power structures of European colonialism which were crumbling in Africa in the 1960s. Much like the rest of Soviet sphere propaganda , Czechoslovak propaganda promised that the spread of communism would engender a world in which race would no longer be relevant, or what we now call ‘ a post-racial society’. In images such as can be seen in the conference poster, communism would only be successful if we cooperated globally and on a pan-racial basis, thus eliminating racial prejudices would be essential on both the micro and macro level. However, as has been attested to by African exchange students living in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s, the propaganda belied the reality on the ground, and many African students reported incidents of racial abuse. African students studying in Prague were the recipients of special vouchers (Tuzex) which gave them access to western goods unavailable to most Czechoslovak citizens, and the common stereotype is that this made the men particularly popular with young Czechoslovak women who would use them to access these goods, but also made them the envy of Czech men. Arguably, the highly popular Czechoslovak ethnographic travelogue documentaries of the 1950s ( see the works of Hanzelka & Zikmund) which often presented Africans unclothed and “closer to nature”, along with these anecdotal tales of African students popularity with Czech women thanks to Tuzex vouchers, exacerbated Czechoslovak notions about black sexuality. African -American jazz was also highly popular with the Czechoslovak counterculture in the 1960s , and several African-American jazz artists performed in Prague ( perhaps most famously Louis Armstrong) , so sexuality and musicality were very much associated with the essence of blackness .
Currently in the Czech Republic, there are at least two black news anchors , and even a black member of parliament, so there is some visibility of black people in media and politics, although the black politician, Dominik Feri, was recently assaulted and hospitalised in what is thought to be a racially motivated attack. There have been some other negative signs in the past few years that the Czech Republic is far from being a colour blind society, particularly the outrage surrounding a black model being used in a Lidl leaflet which triggered a wave of racist rhetoric on social media.
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