The American Girl Goes to War: Women and National Identity in U.S. Silent Film

Rutgers Univ. (War Culture). Jan. 2022. 174p. ISBN 9781978810167. $120; pap. ISBN 9781978810150. $29.95. FILM
Noting that women have played a crucial role in war films, which have often been used as propaganda, Clarke (communication, popular culture and film, Brock Univ., Ontario) seeks to fill the gap in scholarship about women in silent-era war films. Her extensive research explores how depictions of women in war films helped the U.S. establish a new mythology, claim its place on the world stage, and define American identity after waves of immigration. Clarke points out that during this period, American-ness and whiteness were inextricably linked, and the films she cites “demonstrate the way that way that white women serve nationalist, imperialist, and white supremacist aims.” She describes the films Pearl of the Army (1916) and Patria (1917), which centered on women with a long-standing family military heritage, an emblem of “American-ness,” and attempted to awaken viewers to the dangers of so-called “foreign invasion.” The white women in these movies are both prepared to fight and in need of rescue from the perilous influx of the “other.” Readers will undoubtedly find parallels to the current debate about who gets to define “Americanness.”
VERDICT Although focused on film, this exciting, well-researched work crosses multidisciplinary boundaries and will be of value to those interested in cinema, gender studies, propaganda, history, and political science. Recommended for academic libraries.
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