Introductionto Cultural Anthropology 111

SouthernNew Hampshire University


is a four-time Emmy-winning television movie that depicts the life of Smith, a young black blues entertainer in the 1920’s. Bornin 1894 in Chattanooga Tennessee, worked her way out ofpoverty by traveling and performing in the vaudeville and minstrelshows. Smith is regarded as the Empress of the Blues and thegreatest singer of her time.

CulturalAnthropology refers to the society’s beliefs, ideals artisticexpression, and patterns. In the 1920’s culturally white peoplebelieved themselves to be superior to blacks. Nearly three decadesafter the emancipation proclamation freed the slaves’ the Ku KluxKlan a secret society that promoted racial superiority influenced thesouth and perpetuated acts of violence against blacks. Blacks werealso governed by Jim Crow laws that prohibited businesses fromemploying blacks and banned blacks from public facilities. In themovie, confronts the KKK who interrupts one of her tentperformances’.

Linguisticanthropology is the study and structure of a language and itfunctions within a society. In the movie &quot&quot, wewitness expressing her vocal talent and developing the genreof melancholic music called the blues. sang about the socialissues affecting her and blacks. Smith is credited with notonly focusing on lyrics but also incorporating moans and groans inher performance.

Anthropologyof the mind or cognitive behavior is impacted by culture andupbringing. grew up in poverty after being orphaned at the ageof nine. She was reared by her older sister who appeared to beabusive in the movie. As an adult, ’s life was traumatized.She engages in a relationship with Jack Gee, who later becomes herhusband. Fortunately, Jack succeeds to get her a Columbia Recordsdeal. Fortunately, is still facing some problems. Forinstance, she faces race discrimination from the white guests duringparties. In addition, she is attacked during a show in her hometown.

Themovie brings out the theme of relationship. has severalaffairs with other women including Lucille. In addition, she was in astrong affair with Lillian Simpson. At one time, shouted thatshe got twelve women on that particular show and that she can getmany more if she wanted. Later, Lucille breaks her relationship with, and she gets married to another man. also gets marriedto Jack Gee, who also becomes her manager (YouTube,n,d).Besides, is in a romantic relationship with Richard, who laterbecomes her lifetime companion. This theory changes theinterpretation of the film in that it shows that if one engages inthe wrong relationship, misfortunes are likely to occur. Although has both sexes’ affairs, she tries to secrete them.According to Schmidt(n.d),whenever visited buffet flats, she preferred to watch thanparticipate for the fear that Gee would learn about her affairs.

Additionally,the movie brings out the theme of sexuality. and Ma Raineyportray bisexual relationship. They are both seen with cross-dressingand with unconventional beauty (YouTube,n.d).Rainey helps to regain back her confidence in both hersexuality and singing as a young musician. Initially, wasconcerned about her dark-skinned color and was not pleased with hercomplexion. Jack Gee, Richard Morgan, and Viola also played asignificant role in influencing ’s life. Likewise, thistheory changes the interpretation of the film, and a reader can viewsexuality with another angle. According to Latifah, sexuality ishuman nature. The film exposes what happens in real life. It tellsthe truth about the queer black women from a feminist perspective. Itdoes not present sexuality in a scandalized way but rather in what loved. Besides, is bisexual, which is not just acontroversy, but also a fact.

Racismis another anthropological theory exhibited in the film. facesracism from her white guests just because she is dark. Besides, herambitions were frustrated while working at a local vaudeville showswhen her producer was unwilling to feature her. According to Schmidt(n.d),most producers failed to feature dark-skinned people in their showsfor the fear of losing clients. Regarding the race, isresolute to respect her blackness. The movie depicted her rejectionby black-owned and operated Swan Records for being “down home”meaning “too black.” However, this does not tamp down heridentity. Similar to the above theories, race theory changes theinterpretation of the film. Schmidt(n.d) urges that racism should not demean anyone. It is beyond humanability to choose the complexion color. refuses to beexploited based on race, gender, or her class.


Overall, movie is a strong film with a strong and entertainingnarrative. It applies anthropological theories to explore themes suchas relationship, sexuality, and race. Ma Rainey is ’s mentor,and she encourages her to live her life to the fullest. She is like asister to her. The film consists of several relationships, forinstance, between and Lucille, and Jack, andRichard, and Viola, her aunt. On the other hand, sexuality isillustrated through life and actions, as well as the raceissue. , being the main character, most of these themessurrounds her life. However, interpretation of these themes dependson the reader understanding.


Schmidt,R. (Director). (n.d.). [Motion picture].

YouTube.(n.d.). : Trailer #2 (HBO Films) – YouTube. Retrieved November4, 2015, from