Race and the Suburbs in American Film

Edited by Merrill Schleier

Subjects: Film Studies, American Culture, Architectural History/architecture, Urban Sociology, Popular Culture
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Hardcover : 9781438484471, 292 pages, July 2021
Paperback : 9781438484464, 292 pages, January 2022

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations


1. Passing Through: The Black Maid in the Cinematic Suburbs, 1948–1949
John David Rhodes

2. Take a Giant Step: Racialized Spatial Ruptures in the Northern Cinematic Suburbs
Merrill Schleier

3. "Where Have You Been?": Bill Gunn's Suburban Nightmares
Ellen C. Scott

4. The House They Live In: Charles Burnett, Indie Hollywood, and the Politics of Black Suburbia
Joshua Glick

5. "Guess Who Doesn't Belong Here?": The Interracial Couple in Suburban Cinema
Timotheus Vermeulen

6. Alienated Subjects: Suburban Failure and Aspiration in Asian American Film
Helen Heran Jun

7. Inhabiting the Suburban Film: Arab American Narratives of Spatial Insecurity
Amy Lynn Corbin

8. Living in Liberty City: Triangulating Space and Identity in Barry Jenkins's Moonlight (2016)
Paula J. Massood

9. Geographies of Racism: American Suburbs as Palimpsest Spaces in Get Out (2017)
Elizabeth A. Patton

10. The Limits and Possibilities of Suburban Iconoclasm: Suburbicon and 99 Homes
Nathan Holmes

11. "A Perfectly Normal Life?": Suburban Space, Automobility, and Ideological Whiteness in Love, Simon
Angel Daniel Matos


Explores how suburban space and the body are racialized in American film.


This book is the first anthology to explore the connection between race and the suburbs in American cinema from the end of World War II to the present. It builds upon the explosion of interest in the suburbs in film, television, and fiction in the last fifteen years, concentrating exclusively on the relationship of race to the built environment. Suburb films began as a cycle in response to both America's changing urban geography and the re-segregation of its domestic spaces in the postwar era, which excluded African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinx from the suburbs while buttressing whiteness. By defying traditional categories and chronologies in cinema studies, the contributors explore the myriad ways suburban spaces and racialized bodies in film mediate each other. Race and the Suburbs in American Film is a stimulating resource for considering the manner in which race is foundational to architecture and urban geography, which is reflected, promoted, and challenged in cinematic representations.

Merrill Schleier is Professor Emeritus of Art and Architectural History and Film Studies at the University of the Pacific. They are the author of Skyscraper Cinema: Architecture and Gender in American Film.


"In Race and the Suburbs, marginalized groups and individuals are empowered with agency both in their capacity as participants and producers of film because their presence, actions, and creative endeavors invert and subvert the imagined white epitome of suburbia in American film." — Journal of Popular Culture

"A fascinating look at how suburban films have treated race, from their long-lived fixation on whiteness to an opening up to diverse perspectives and experiences. Through creative analysis of cinematic elements and the business of film, the volume's authors probe the many ways racialized people inhabited the cinematic suburb, and encourage us to reimagine the suburban film genre itself." — Becky M. Nicolaides, author of My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working-Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920–1965

"Centering films and figures often left out of the popular canon of suburban cinema saturated by images white families fenced in by even whiter picket fences, Race and the Suburbs in American Film broadens the archive of suburban film and its racial tropes beyond blanket exclusion. From attending to the black maids statically framed in mid-century film and black filmmakers' efforts decades later to capture black suburban experience as homeowners, to tales of suburban dysfunction, isolation, and indivisibility highlighted in films centering Asian and Arab American experiences, the essays in this collection powerfully retrieve the more complex story of race's presence in the suburbs punctuating American cinema." — Adrienne Brown, author of The Black Skyscraper: Architecture and the Perception of Race