Tom Sinclair
January 26, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams

Current Status
In Season
Donald Bogle
One World
We gave it an A

”Who doesn’t know ‘Sunshine Sammy,’ the funny little darkie of the Hal Roach Comedies?” asked a 1921 ad for Roach’s The Pickaninny. In his day, young Sammy was the highest-paid black actor around, with a reported annual salary of $10,000; his story is one of dozens to be found in Donald Bogle’s meticulously researched, engrossing book, Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams, about African-American involvement in the movie business. Blacks, of course, have been part of Hollywood since D.W. Griffith’s notoriously racist 1915 The Birth of a Nation (during filming, the director formed a friendship with ”Negro” actress Madame Sul-Te-Wan). Bogle brings into focus a time when black audiences greeted screen appearances by the pop-eyed actor Stepin Fetchit with the pride and excitement that later generations would accord Denzel Washington. Shameful, funny, enlightening, and sobering, this tale of movieland’s dark side is a must-read for any student of film history.

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