Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Leisa Meyer


In 1922, Virginia's General Assembly created a Motion Picture Censorship Board, which viewed every movie seeking legal exhibition in Virginia until 1965. This cultural regulation of popular culture complemented other economic and political policies of the state designed to buttress the power of white, middle-to-upper class elites within the state. to this end, the censors, empowered by the authority of the state, were particularly concerned with regulating certain images of African Americans and female sexuality on-screen.;Yet the process of censorship was a contested, fluid practice, and individuals and community groups protested formal censorship decisions. Furthermore, filmmakers whose films were not allowed to play in the state often took more covert methods to get their films show. African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux continually worked with theater owners to get his officially censored fare shown to Black communities despite a state ban against them. While censorship decisions, despite contestation, stood unimpeded in the 1920s and 1930s, by the end of the World War II, many Virginians no longer accepted the cultural authority afforded the censorship board. A wide variety of groups protested the board's censorship of the anti-Klan film The Burning Cross in 1947.;With rising civil rights protests, waning movie profits, and federal court decisions which continually expanded First Amendment protections to the movies, the work of the censorship board was continually constricted until, by the early 1960s, the censors only had the legal authority to censor ambiguously-labeled "obscenity" from the screen. In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "a priori" censorship which determines whether a movie is or is not suitable prior to its exhibition, was unconstitutional. as a result, Virginia's censorship board disbanded, and the General Assembly officially dissolved it in early 1966. Virginia's moviegoers enjoyed a brief interlude in which most any material could be found on some theater screens, including the hardcore pornographic film Deep Throat (1972). In 1973, however, the U.S. Supreme Court returned jurisdiction over such material to local authorities in the Miller v. California ruling. Thus film and other cultural offerings could be deemed acceptable in some locales yet forbidden in others.



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