Pola Negri’s star persona in America of the 1920s

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This chapter looks at the construction of Pola Negri’s persona by discussing her
films, as well as her off-screen antics. Negri’s figure was emblematic of a
representation of an exotic and threatening foreign woman, the association which inevitably incapacitated her career in the American movie industry. Firstly, I position the iconography of the vamp in the cultural context of the era. The figure of a pagan, earthy female sexuality has been popularised at the end of the
nineteenth century by symbolist painters and consequently re-invented in the
America of the 1920’s to mobilise fears surrounding women’s growing
independence and reflect concerns linked to the new wave of immigration. I will
analyse the ways in which Negri’s movies re-enacted those anxieties through their gender portrayal. The femme fatale crosses the boundaries of patriarchal norms, class and ethnicity, and produces a threat. In films such as Spanish Dancer1 Negri not only personified threat to status quo, questioning rigid limitations of sexuality but above all represented an ethnic hazard. Her exotic otherness threatens to undermine the existing cultural order, making Negri a unique symbol of the possibility of foreign invasion. From the outset of the star’s relationship with
media, the journalists insisted on seeing her mainly through the prism of her
European otherness. Some went as far as to deliberately misspell her quotes in
interviews to convey the idea of Negri’s English being far from fluent. By the late
twenties the representational scheme Negri was widely associated with fell out of
fashion, marking a turning point in her career. The fact she could not escape the
role of a vamp (nor dismiss the threatening characteristics of the figure)
contributed to her demise as an artist.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRe-Visiting Female Evil
Subtitle of host publicationPower, Purity and Desire
EditorsMelissa Dearey, Susana Nicolás, Roger Davis
Place of PublicationLeiden Netherlands
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9789004350816
ISBN (Print)9789004350397
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameAt the Interface/Probing the Boundaries


  • Silent film
  • star studies
  • Film History

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