1920s Boom and Bust

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  • To analyze the 1920s through a short, fictional Hollywood film featuring Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra (starring as themselves), entitled Black and Tan (1929). Based on the film, were the 1920s “roaring” (exciting, modern, free?) or fundamentally “reactionary” (oppressive, backward-looking, restrictive)?
  • To assess the impact of mass entertainment (Jazz, Hollywood movies) on American culture.


  1. Be sure to do this week’s reading assignment on the history of the 1920s, so that you understand the larger historical context. Also take a look at my slides on the 1920s, to understand why the 1920s are sometimes seen as “roaring” (exciting, modern, free) and sometimes seen as “reactionary” (oppressive, backward-looking, restrictive).
  2. Read this background information and plot summary (Links to an external site.) before you watch.
  3. Watch the film (15 minutes), paying special attention to how race, class, and gender in the 1920s were portrayed: Black and Tan Fantasy (1929) – Duke Ellington (Links to an external site.)Black and Tan Fantasy (1929) - Duke Ellington
  4. According to the film, were the 1920s “roaring” (exciting, modern, free?) or fundamentally “reactionary” (oppressive, backward-looking, restrictive)? Submit a paragraph (click on the blue “submit assignment” button above) in which you answer this question, using specific evidence from the film. In your answer, you might consider the style of music, or how gender, race, or class are being portrayed in the film. Would you want to live in the 1920s? Would it depend on who you were?

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