Blonde Venus (Joseph von Sternberg, 1932)
Women in blackface and revealing “tribal” costumes (think the feathery equivalent of Josephine Baker’s banana skirt) stomp and girate on stage to music performed by black men. They bring a chained gorilla out, from which emerges a glowingly white Marlene Dietrich. Her whiteness (which is inextricable from her beauty) is enhanced by contrast: slim, white, and hairless she emerges from a gorilla in a scene shot to make her paleness glow, while the women in blackface seem to blend into the background. She wears a similar costume the the background dancers, but more elaborate (more shimmer, more feathers, and darker, of course, to better make her white skin stand out), while the same wig is white instead of black and features shining arrows. More than the visual contrast is the racial one. The stereotypical tribal Africanness is played against the whiteness of Dietrich, while her persona lends itself to the performance: the exoticism of Marlene Dietrich as a European star is enhanced by the exoticism and fetishization of stereotypes surrounding black African women (presented as a monolith of tropes, surrounding mainly Otherness and the hypersexualization of black women), without her whiteness being tainted. Her whiteness is amplified so that it may exploit this racism without actually making her ugly by being a part of it. She is not actually black: to engage in the behaviours which are presented as essentially African is simply a sexy performance rather than a natural, ingrained immorailty. This is something she can put on and take off; she (and the viewer as well) indulge in the racism for titillation and sexual excitement without concern for what the stereotypes and ideology surrounding them mean to the people they actually concern.
The fact that this performance is continuously glorified and glamourized speaks the disturbing side effects of star power under white supremacy as well as the continuing racism and anti-blackness of film fandoms.