In the context of film studies, discussions of Populism tend to downplay the history of the People's Party of the United States, whose organizers themselves helped coin the adjective "Populist" from the Latin populus in seeking a less unwieldy journalistic handle. Rather, film critics emphasize a more generally majoritarian sensibility ("The Folklore of Populism," "The Fantasy of Goodwill") typically associated with the New Deal-era films of Frank Capra (1897–1991), especially the "Populist Trilogy" of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Meet John Doe (1941).

Apart from the Capra-Populism conflation, the only sustained tradition of linking the Populist Party with film involves Victor Fleming's 1939 film version of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz , though the argument that Dorothy's silver shoes refer allegorically to the "Free Silver" platform plank dear to mining state Populists is undercut in The Wizard of Oz by the shift from silver to ruby slippers. Still, it is hard to deny the New Deal resonances of the MGM Wizard's FDR-like pronouncements about the dynamics of courage in the face of soul-daunting circumstances. (By contrast, some see Baum's novel as anti -Populist, with the Wicked Witch of the West standing for "capital-P" Populism, an equation made plausible by the prominence of female orators among Populism's organizers and advocates.)

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