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An overlooked detail linking together the great names of postwar Soviet cinema-Leonid Gaidai, El'dar Riazanov, Vladimir Vysotskii, Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Bondarchuk, and even Winnie-the-Pooh—is their embrace of blackface, either donning it themselves as actors or encouraging its use in the films they directed. This essay contests that blackface is not simply an awkward detail in several postwar Soviet film classics but is, in fact, a device onto which filmmakers and viewers displaced and registered the subterranean tensions of the Stalinist past and the changing dynamics of the de-Stalinizing present. Through readings of Tarkovsky's The Killers (Ubiitsy, 1956), Riazanov's The Man from Nowhere (Chelovek niotkuda, 1961), Gaidai's Operation "Y" and Shurik's Other Adventures (Operatsiia "y" i drugie prikliucheniia Shurika, 1965), Sergei Yutkevich's Othello (Otello, 1955), Aleksandr Mitta's How Tsar Peter the Great Married Off His Moor (Skaz pro to, kak tsar' Petr arapa zhenil, 1976), and Fyodor Khitruk's Winnie-the-Pooh (Vinni-Pukh, 1969-1972), I argue that post-Stalinist cinema employs blackface as a receptacle for Stalinism's "dark" legacy. It functioned for audiences as a grotesque source of misrecognition, facilitating idealized images of Soviet-ness, i.e., whiteness, by defining it against that which it was not (Blackness; African-ness) in a time of cultural flux.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)641-661
Number of pages21
JournalSlavic and East European Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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