"Screening a Lynching examines four Hollywood treatments of the infamous Leo Frank affair. Equally enlightening on the motivations of the producers and directors behind each project—two for film, two for TV—and the actual facts of the case, the book takes as its deeper concern the inherent tension between creative license and historical accuracy in reality-based dramas. This is a rich topic, and Bernstein handles it with aplomb."
—Steve Oney, author of And the Dead Shall Rise
Matthew H. Bernstein is the first scholar to examine the feature films and television programs produced in response to the trial and lynching of Leo Frank. He considers the four major surviving American texts: Oscar Micheaux's film Murder in Harlem (1936), Mervyn LeRoy's film They Won't Forget (1937), the Profiles in Courage television episode "John M. Slaton" (1964), and the two-part NBC miniseries The Murder of Mary Phagan (1988). Bernstein explains that complex issues like racism, anti-Semitism, class resentment, and sectionalism were at once irresistibly compelling and painfully difficult to portray in the mass media. Exploring the cultural and industrial contexts in which the works were produced, Bernstein considers how they succeeded or failed in representing the case's many facets. Film and television shows can provide worthy interpretations of history, Bernstein argues, even when they depart from the historical record.
Screening a Lynching is an engrossing meditation on how film and television represented a traumatic and tragic episode in American history—one that continues to fascinate people to this day.
Read more about the Leo Frank case at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
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