66 posts in this topic

23 minutes ago, dfishgrl said:

For anyone interested in exploring more of the history of African Americans in film, here is a list from the New York Times this year during Black History Month:

 https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/01/movies/28-essential-films-black-history-month.html

 

Thanks for the link!

My favorite version of Imitation of Life is the grand Douglas Sirk production (1959) with Ms. Juanita Moore and Ms. Mahalia Jackson. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052918/fullcredits 

I first saw it as a girl, my mother so admired (and looked like) Ms. Jackson, and my sister was lucky enough to see the movie and Ms. Moore at the 2010 TCM Classic Film Festival in L.A. One of my top 10 classic race movies. 

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I see some mention on this thread of early black director Oscar Micheaux.  What I didn't see, and maybe I missed it in perusing the many responses, was that there were a number of independent "Black" films in the 30s and 40s, maybe even the 20s, that were produced and directed by African-Americans, themselves.  They were geared towards the black audience and were viewed primarily in black movie houses, that is, movie theaters in predominantly black neighborhoods.  Oscar Micheaux and other black filmmakers like him did not have the financial resources or the backing of the white major film studios and therefore, had to raise the money themselves.  The films were usually done on the "cheapie" and quickly produced, my thinking is so the filmmakers could get them out and receive the funding quickly to make more films, as well as to make a living.  These "race films" produced by African-Americans provided jobs and exposure to many fine black artists and entertainers who were ignored for the most part by the mainstream film industry. 

Many of the stars of the black films were the same actors and singers that were called upon for the big studio race films:  Hallelujah, Cabin in the Sky, Stormy Weather, Green Pastures, etc.  Nina (pronounced "N'eye'na", at least that's how I heard black folk who knew her and saw her early films pronounce her name, not "Neena" as is usual and as I've heard it on TCM) Mae McKinney was in many of the independent black-produced films of the 30s and 40s.  So, too, was Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and many of the other great black entertainers and actors of the era. My uncle, Emmett "Babe" Wallace, was one of the three top stars in Stormy Weather along with Lena Horne and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.  He played Chick, the night club owner, singer and bandleader who was Lena Horne's love interest and rival to Bill Robinson.  He never received much acclaim and I don't think was even credited.  Not unusual in those days for a handsome, talented black man who may have been perceived as a threat by some.  He went on to greater acclaim in Europe with the Follies Bergere in Paris and in the nightlife of Israel. There is much material available on early black cinema.  One just has to do a lot of digging.  The Schomberg Library in Harlem is a good beginning point.  Vast resource!  Sorry to be so verbose, but it's a subject close to my heart and my family's as we had several relatives in the entertainment industry of the periods mentioned.  

A little anecdote:  my father, who was living in North Carolina at the time, said that a traveling book salesman came to his door one day selling a novel he had written.  He was an African-American gentleman and his name was-guess...Oscar Micheaux.  If it's true, and I don't doubt it, Oscar Micheaux was also an author and did travel around selling his books to make a living and to help bankroll his films. 

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I'm not a newbie, maybe to this thread but I am taking the TCM Madness in Musicals course and have posted on the boards before!!! Anyway!

 

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I had a thought while watching Cabin In The Sky. I tried to imagine all of the actors being white instead of black, and I realized that it wasn't a black story or a white story. It was a human story.  I would love to be able to find Hallelujah! somewhere so I can finally watch that and try the same experiment. 

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RenaJ, Hallelujah is available for rent on Amazon and Youtube movies for a reasonable price.  TCM probably also has it for sale.  Check TCM's website.  They have many of the classics they show for sale.  

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On 6/11/2018 at 7:39 PM, Princess of Tap said:

During the war, Did you know that Latin American Brazilian Carmen Miranda was the highest paid performer in Hollywood?

 To the mainstream white audiences she was an exotic creature and they couldn't get enough of her.

Honestly I have never seen one of her movies. I don't think they ever played any on TCM. Maybe they have but I never saw one. No I did not know that,thanks. I do know there is a scene in Mildred Pierce where the little girl Kay gives a cute Carmen Miranda impression which speaks to her popularity among white movie audiences in the mid '40s. 

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3 hours ago, Brittany Ashley said:

Honestly I have never seen one of her movies. I don't think they ever played any on TCM. Maybe they have but I never saw one. No I did not know that,thanks. I do know there is a scene in Mildred Pierce where the little girl Kay gives a cute Carmen Miranda impression which speaks to her popularity among white movie audiences in the mid '40s. 

Carmen's music and custom Style of dressing was appropriated from African Brazilian women.

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On June 11, 2018 at 8:24 PM, Brittany Ashley said:

I understand about the colorism and pitting the women against each other. Was it significant that the darker skinned woman was "better" than the lighter skinned woman?

 

On June 11, 2018 at 8:35 PM, starryeyzze said:

I think we see the Petronia, the darker skinned woman as "good" because she is religious and identified as one of God's favorites in the film.  

Thank you for all the thoughtful posts on this topic! Another thought on why the light/dark opposition plays out differently in Cabin in the Sky. Petunia, played by the darker-skinned Ethel Waters, is loyal, modest, and godly. She also (mostly) follows the rules--not only of religion, but society and propriety. She "knows her place." Georgia, played by the lighter-skinned Lena Horne, is always breaking the rules, breaking boundaries, threatening the status quo. In the film, that status quo is a close-knit African American community, but in America at large, the status quo is controlled by whites. So her lighter skin-tone is threatening because it calls into question the inherent difference between "white" and "black"--and why one group should have power over the other.

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On 6/11/2018 at 7:07 PM, Brittany Ashley said:

Thank you for correcting me. So these films were really made as an attempt to get white audiences to accept black people and performers? I knew vaudeville was segregated but I did not know that Mr Robinson played white vaudeville or headlined Broadway.

Ken Burns' series Jazz explained that white audiences came to Harlem to see black entertainment, though of course the opposite could not happen. In addition, black entertainers played in white venues though blacks could not be in the audience.   And as far as the motivation for making Cabin in the Sky? It had been a successful stage musical and Hollywood sniffed money. Aside from any possible motivation from progressive individuals/artists, you can be quite sure the studio motivation was $$$$. I don't know for sure, but I doubt any promotion of tolerance or acceptance came into it. The fact that studios cut scenes from films so they could make their full dollar by complying with the racist standards of the south shows that money trumped ideals at the corporate level. 

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On 6/12/2018 at 7:39 PM, johnatone said:

My uncle, Emmett "Babe" Wallace, was one of the three top stars in Stormy Weather along with Lena Horne and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.  He played Chick, the night club owner, singer and bandleader who was Lena Horne's love interest and rival to Bill Robinson.  He never received much acclaim and I don't think was even credited.  Not unusual in those days for a handsome, talented black man who may have been perceived as a threat by some.  He went on to greater acclaim in Europe with the Follies Bergere in Paris and in the nightlife of Israel. There is much material available on early black cinema.  One just has to do a lot of digging.  The Schomberg Library in Harlem is a good beginning point.  Vast resource!  Sorry to be so verbose, but it's a subject close to my heart and my family's as we had several relatives in the entertainment industry of the periods mentioned.  

A little anecdote:  my father, who was living in North Carolina at the time, said that a traveling book salesman came to his door one day selling a novel he had written.  He was an African-American gentleman and his name was-guess...Oscar Micheaux.  If it's true, and I don't doubt it, Oscar Micheaux was also an author and did travel around selling his books to make a living and to help bankroll his films. 

What a wonderful piece of family history! I said in another post somewhere that much African American contribution to entertainment is hidden. I've been learning bit by bit over the years, ironically, AFTER I left school and sort of through the back door, because of my interest in jazz. Your mention of the Follies brings to mind Josephine Baker, another great who went abroad to reach her full artistic potential. Of course, I had to look up your uncle and I nearly fell out of my chair to see he wrote and sang a song "Dizengoff" which is/was the main strip of coffee shops and clubs in Tel Aviv and which I have visited a few times. I love it when the universe makes these connections happen in front of my eyes. Thanks for your interesting post!

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On 6/11/2018 at 4:13 PM, Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament said:

Additionally, other races were not as separated, although they were treated as less valuable than white. They were marginalized in mainstream films. The "yellow peril" was a common term for Asian men in films. Just awful. But they were not the victims of the same kind of laws that African Americans had been. Go figure. Slavery, am I right?

I can think of a few films immediately that reflect the USA’s second-class worldview status of other culture groups during the mid-century: Love Is A Many Splendored ThingThe World of Suzy Wong, and Sayonara. Sayonara is particularly telling for its depiction of American servicemen, their Asian wives, and the struggle to bring them home. 

We haven’t even started talking about Flower Drum Song. 

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19 minutes ago, crysalong said:

I can think of a few films immediately that reflect the USA’s second-class worldview status of other culture groups during the mid-century: Love Is A Many Splendored ThingThe World of Suzy Wong, and Sayonara. Sayonara is particularly telling for its depiction of American servicemen, their Asian wives, and the struggle to bring them home. 

We haven’t even started talking about Flower Drum Song. 

Yep!  There are many examples for many ethnic groups that fall in the so-called "minority."  Hollywood began, to some degree, an attempt to counter societal racism in the radical 60s both in film and on TV, but more often than not, I believe Hollywood simply reflected the culture of the times, that is the particular era, than standing as an outspoken voice for the oppressed and underdog.   

 

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35 minutes ago, johnatone said:

Yep!  There are many examples for many ethnic groups that fall in the so-called "minority."  Hollywood began, to some degree, an attempt to counter societal racism in the radical 60s both in film and on TV, but more often than not, I believe Hollywood simply reflected the culture of the times, that is the particular era, than standing as an outspoken voice for the oppressed and underdog.   

 

Hollywood's business was about making money and pleasing the public.

However, I can think of one producer/ director, Stanley Kramer, who actually formulated a plan to improve the civil rights of black Americans by finding particular topics that would advance their status and by doing so, he propelled  one black actor into the mainstream of Hollywood stardom, Sidney Poitier.

Kramer was responsible for Poitier starring vehicles like: " The Defiant Ones", "Pressure Point" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"

Stanley Kramer also made the Hard movies on Justice for the Holocaust victims of the Nazis of the Third Reich in "Judgment at Nuremberg", one of his most critically acclaimed movies. And one of his most popular films was a court battle between the science of evolution and Fundamentalist Christianity - - "Inherit the Wind". Another early film starring Marlon Brando about soldiers physically disabled in War - - "The Men"--was also ahead of its time.

"Home of the Brave and " The Member of the Wedding"were two other films that he made with black characters in non-stereotypical leading roles.

Despite Hollywood's reluctance to handle these serious subjects - - Kramer's movies were extremely popular and made a lot of money.

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On 6/12/2018 at 6:39 PM, johnatone said:

My uncle, Emmett "Babe" Wallace, was one of the three top stars in Stormy Weather along with Lena Horne and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.  He played Chick, the night club owner, singer and bandleader who was Lena Horne's love interest and rival to Bill Robinson.  He never received much acclaim and I don't think was even credited.  Not unusual in those days for a handsome, talented black man who may have been perceived as a threat by some.  He went on to greater acclaim in Europe with the Follies Bergere in Paris and in the nightlife of Israel. There is much material available on early black cinema.  One just has to do a lot of digging.  The Schomberg Library in Harlem is a good beginning point.  Vast resource!  Sorry to be so verbose, but it's a subject close to my heart and my family's as we had several relatives in the entertainment industry of the periods mentioned.  

A little anecdote:  my father, who was living in North Carolina at the time, said that a traveling book salesman came to his door one day selling a novel he had written.  He was an African-American gentleman and his name was-guess...Oscar Micheaux.  If it's true, and I don't doubt it, Oscar Micheaux was also an author and did travel around selling his books to make a living and to help bankroll his films. 

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Thank you so much for sharing this.  What a great family history.  I checked out his IMDb page.  It's sad that he didn't make more films.

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