Zora Neale Hurston was an author, playwright, anthropologist, and, briefly, a screenwriter. Paramount Pictures hired Hurston in 1941, but there is little documentation of her work for the studio. The brief mentions that exist reveal that Hurston worked on the script for an unproduced musical called Very Hot in Haiti. Yet, information about the unfilmed project is scarce. In this essay, I explore Hurston’s work for Paramount through a speculative approach: I analyze the documents that are known—trade papers, newspapers, production data, and Hurston’s writings—to inform speculation about the unknown, and potentially unknowable, aspects of her experience. In short, I ask: What might Hurston have worked on at Paramount? And what do those possibilities suggest or reveal about Hurston and studio-era Hollywood? The results demonstrate the power of taking a speculative, contextual, deductive approach to analysis of underdocumented historical figures.
In Search of Zora Neale Hurston in Hollywood
Kallan Benjamin is a PhD student in film in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She earned an MA in cinema and media studies from the University of Southern California and a BA in film studies from Wesleyan University. Her research centers on historical intersections of gender, labor, and screenwriting.
Kallan Benjamin; In Search of Zora Neale Hurston in Hollywood. Feminist Media Histories 1 October 2023; 9 (4): 53–80. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2023.9.4.53
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