Accessibility statement

Back to Babylon: Queer Theory, Genre & Hollywood’s Golden Age (1930-1950) - ENG00150M

« Back to module search

  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Tom Houlton
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

What does it mean to ‘queer’ old Hollywood cinema? What does it mean to create – and consume – popular art? How do LGBTQIA+ and other intersectional subjects become erased, disguised or coded under one of the biggest cultural censorship regimes of the twentieth century? How might queer theory allow us to re-examine this turbulent period, and its relationship to our own?

This module will discuss key theoretical texts from queer theory and its intersectional methodologies (such as critical race theory), alongside key films and genres from the period. As well as examining the representation of LGBTQIA+ subjects, we will also consider their absence, and the coding of this absence in symbolic or structural forms. As such, this course will begin to theoretically unpack the contradictions inherent in mainstream Hollywood: the glamour, oppression, fear, and artistic creativity of this contradictory, exciting moment in cinematic and cultural history.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

This module will allow students to develop an advanced critical understanding of the relationships between queer theory and ‘Golden Age’ Hollywood cinema. It will encourage students to develop individual, imaginative, and constructive queer methodologies for engaging with historic films and other cultural products. It will develop modes and methods of queer film criticism that examine questions of representation, structure, resistance, interpretation, and form. It will consider the benefits and strategies of deploying contemporary theoretical works alongside ‘Golden Age’ Hollywood films, and the new critical interventions these afford. It will consider how exchanges between queer identities, politics, theories, and films can inform our contemporary critical thinking, cultural understanding, and methodological approaches.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with key films from ‘Golden Age’ Hollywood cinema produced between 1930-50, and their attendant LGBTQIA+ cultures.
  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with key concepts in Queer Theory, Film Criticism, Film Genre and Film Analysis.
  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields, especially concerning: LGBTQIA+ representation; censorship and artistic oppression; queerness as practice; intersectionality.
  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas with demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
4,500-word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will hand in an essay of 1,400-1,600 words in Week 6 of Semester 1 for the Postgraduate Life in Practice module. The main purpose of the essay is to ensure that the department can identify those students who may require additional assistance with academic writing skills. Material from this essay may be re-visited in either one of the January essays or the dissertation. It is therefore an early chance to work through material that might be used in assessed work. The title topic of the essay, like the title topic of all assessed work for the degree, is left open to the individual student.


Task Length % of module mark
4,500-word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your module tutor, the MA Convenor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

Indicative reading

Indicative Content:

Drag, Moral Panic, and the Hays Code
: Morocco (1930), Queen Christina (1933)
Atkins, Thomas R. (ed.), Sexuality in the Movies (1975)
Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble (1989) Hanson, Ellis (ed.),
Out Takes: Essays on Queer Theory and Film (1999)

Outsider Hollywood #1: Black Bodies, Racism, and Representation
: The Emperor Jones (1933), Princesse Tam Tam (1935)
Cripps, Thomas, Slow Fade to Black (1977)
Diawara, Manthia (ed.), Black American Cinema (1993)
Gabbard, Krin, Black Magic: White Hollywood and African American Culture (2004)

Anna May Wong’s Resistant Orientalism
: Shanghai Express (1932), Daughter of Shanghai (1937)
Bernstein, Matthew & Gaylyn Studlar (eds.),
Orientalism in Film (1997)
Leong, Karen J., The China Mystique (2005)
Mulvey, Laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975)

Camp and the Hollywood Musical
: The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Gang’s All Here (1943)
Cleto, Fabio, Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject (1999)
Russo, Vito, The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (1987)
Sontag, Susan, Notes on ‘Camp’ (1964)

Queer Ecology and the Landscape of the Western
: The Big Trail (1930), Stagecoach (1939)
Burdon, Peter D., Earth Jurisprudence: Private Property and the Environment (2015)
Carmichael, Deborah (ed.), The Landscape of Hollywood Westerns (2006)
Sandilands, Catriona & Bruce Erickson (eds.),
Queer Ecologies (2010)

Film Noir and the femme fatale
: Double Indemnity (1944), Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
Halberstam, Jack, Female Masculinity (1998)
Hanson, Helen & Catherine O’Rawe (eds.), The Femme Fatale (2010)
Kaplan, E. Ann (ed.), Women in Film Noir (1998)

Outsider Hollywood #2: Joseph Cornell, Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger
: Rose Hobart (1937), Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), Fireworks (1947), Puce Moment (1949)
Anger, Kenneth, Hollywood Babylon (1975)
Deren, Maya, Essential Deren (2005)
Tinkcom, Matthew, Working Like a Homosexual: Camp, Capital, Cinema (2002)

The Cold War, Homophobia, and the Lavender Scare
: Rope (1948), All About Eve (1950)
Christensen, Terry & Peter J. Haas, Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Film (2015)
Johnson, David K., The Lavender Scare (2004)
Weiss, Meredith L. & Michael J. Bosia (eds.), Global Homophobia (2013)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.