In Elizabeth Taylor: Icon of American Empire, Gloria Shin contends that the eponymous movie star is a model of postcolonial whiteness as her tenure as the most beautiful and famous woman in the world coincides with the era of postcolonialism in the 1950s and 1960s. Taylor is examined through a series of overlapping readings: as the Mistress in a cycle of Hollywood plantation films in the 1950s, via her extra-cinematic image as an exoticized jet-setting wanton seductress in the 1960s, through her repatriation to the U.S. and the election of her pro-military husband to the U.S. Senate in the 1970s, and her evolution as a relentless AIDS activist in the 1980s. Across these interpretative frames, Taylor emerges as the figuration who performs the vast possibilities open to postcolonial whites for mobility, pleasure, and political agency while operating without the burdens of race that allows her stardom to be symbolic of American Empire at the apex of its power.
Gloria Shin is full-time instructor in film, television, and media studies in the School of Film and Television at Loyola Marymount University. She is a media consultant whose work has been featured on NPR and in the Los Angeles Times.
Chapter 1: Beauty is a Rare Thing: Pulchritude, Performance and Elizabeth Taylor’s Body
Chapter 2: Taylor Made: Race, Gender and Discipline in the Plantation Films of Elizabeth Taylor
Chapter 3: ‘If it be Love Indeed, Tell Me How Much’: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and White Pleasure After Empire
Chapter 4: The Most Beautiful Woman Saves the World: Capitalism, the Maternal Melodrama and the Meaning of Elizabeth Taylor’s AIDS Activism
Elizabeth Taylor: Icon of American Empire examines the life, career, and activism of Elizabeth Taylor (1932–2011) through the lenses of critical race theory, postcolonial theory, feminist theory, and political theory. Shin argues that Taylor is a “metaphor of American empire” and a symbol of “postcolonial whiteness.” The book’s four chapters explore four elements of Taylor’s mythology. Chapter 1 examines Taylor’s physical beauty and its connection to a hyperfeminine ideal of whiteness. In chapter 2, Shin analyzes Taylor’s filmography, focusing specifically on her roles in the “plantation films” Elephant Walk, Giant, and Raintree Country, arguing that the films provide a colonial gaze and reference “manifest domesticity.” Taylor’s storied relationship with Welsh actor Richard Burton is explored in chapter 3. Shin argues that their commodified relationship positioned them to succeed as freelance actors following the demise of the Hollywood studio system. In the final chapter, Shin examines Taylor’s late-life AIDS activism, arguing that it created the foundation for future celebrity activism. The Taylor Shin presents was a star and symbol who set the groundwork for future celebrity representation even as she was a conduit for “US imperial ambitions.”Highly recommended
Yes, there is more to say about Elizabeth Taylor, and Gloria Shin proves it with her unique look at the late icon as the model of postcolonial whiteness. Of particular interest is Shin’s focus on Taylor’s AIDS activism, and how Taylor served 'as an effective agent of positive social change.'
Elizabeth Taylor: Icon of American Empire offers a meticulously researched, rigorous, and insightful new perspective about the titular Hollywood star. Gloria Shin explores Taylor’s iconicity as a symbol of postcolonial whiteness, revealing how the actress’s film roles, glamorous extra-cinematic image, and late-career political activism collectively frame her as appealing model of American imperialist power and consumption.