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Masculinities in American Western Films

A Hyper-Linear History

Emma Hamilton

The «Western» embodies many of the stereotypes of masculinity: rugged, independent men in cowboy hats roam the barren landscapes of the American West, resolving conflicts with guns and tough talk. Where did these cowboys come from? What historical trends led to their emergence on screen?

This book explores the relationship between the Western, film and historical representation and the ways in which masculine gender performance is itself historical. It posits a new interpretation of how history functions on film, termed hyper-linear history. Hyper-linear history creates the possibility of seeing film as a vehicle that makes the past immediately explicit and relevant, rendering historical understandings complex.

The study offers a fresh exploration of American Western films made in the 1950s and 1960s, arguing that many Westerns of this period rely on the post-Civil War on-screen past to make sense of the tumultuous experiences of the period, to various effect. The films especially tap into the ways in which national economic, political, technological and social changes impact the performance of hegemonic masculinities. These films provide insight into the ways in which masculinities are performed and gender crises are expressed, explored and resolved.

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Chapter 7 ‘As unmarked as their place in history’: Black Westerns, an Alternative History of Masculinities?


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‘As unmarked as their place in history’: Black Westerns, an Alternative History of Masculinities?

This chapter explores the representations of black experiences on the frontier as portrayed in the 1972 film Buck and the Preacher, the directorial debut of Sidney Poitier. The film follows the migration of African Americans from the South following the end of the Civil War as they search for land and freedom in the West. However, racist Southerners, hired by ‘persons unknown’, violently harass their wagon trains in an attempt to thwart their efforts and have them return ‘home’ to conditions of bondage. When the migrants are robbed by the Southerners it appears they will be unable to pay for their passage overland; it is then up to freedom-fighting, wagon-master Buck (Sidney Poitier), and his new-found, con-man friend, Preacher (Harry Belafonte), to resurrect their hopes. The pair sets about negotiating the wagon-train’s path with Native Americans, recovering the money through whatever means necessary, and ensuring their people’s safety. With the assistance of Buck’s lover, Ruth (Ruby Dee), Buck and the Preacher shoot some of the bounty-hunters in an attempt to regain their people’s money but, finding it already spent, they rob a bank. Pursued for their crimes, a posse targets both them and the wagon train, before a final showdown leaves Buck and Preacher, assisted by their Native American guides, victorious. The film ends with the wagon train making its way into the green pastures of the...

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