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Journal of Transnational American Studies

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Russian Film -- Criticism


This article is an analysis of the Soviet film Tom Soier, an adaptation of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn released in 1936, at the height of the Stalinist period. In the article, the author places the film in the context of the Soviet support of the Black struggle against racial segregation in America by showing how Tom Soier creatively combines the plots of Twain’s novels in order to propagate an antiracist message. Furthermore, by casting African American actors in the roles of Black enslaved characters, the film also engages with what Steven Lee has called the ethnic avant-garde, i.e., the complex of transnational and multiethnic artistic exchanges and collaborations that took place in the interwar period and which had its nexus in the Soviet Union. The author argues that the seemingly progressive message of the film is nevertheless undermined in part by its evocation of racist practices of blackface in a key episode in the final scene. The author links the use of blackface as a punitive action with Stalinist cultural codes, and specifically with modalities of humor and the carnivalesque that overlap with some of the most violent periods of the Soviet Terror. The result is a film that updates the message of Twain’s novels to the then-current struggle for national self-determination and racial equality while also reflecting the darkest facets of Soviet Stalinist culture.


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