In the summer of 1943, race riots stirred waves of violence across several US cities, the largest taking place in Detroit, Harlem, and Los Angeles. During wartime, patriotic anger was aimed not only outward at the Axis powers, but also inward at US citizens. This article focuses on Los Angeles’s Zoot Suit Riots, exploring how in a surprising number of accounts of the alleged riot, movie theaters serve as backgrounds alongside white, Mexican American, African American, and Asian American women, who appear as minor, nameless characters. Finding instances in work from Beatrice Griffith and Carey McWilliams, in fiction from Fernando Alegría and Chester Himes, and in the canonical Chicano films Zoot Suit (1981) and American Me (1992), the article traces the supporting roles women and movie theaters serve in these diverse narratives, and how both come to visually and discursively represent dangerous wartime boundaries.

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