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Upon reviewing lecture notes from yesterdays 1920s lesson, I have a couple of questions about the so-called race films.

A ) If films made and marketed to the black audience were called race films, what about other minority groups like Asians and Latinos? Were there films created with these groups in mind (like Hallelujah for African Americans) and if there were, what were they called? It seems like anything related to black people was labelled "race" but what about other non-white groups? I doubt -what we would call in 2018- non black people of color (NBPOC) were considered part of the "white market" since technically they were not white. Also, why was the word "race" just applied to black people instead of other non white groups? 

B ) who first coined the term "race films" white creators or black? Was it a marketing term on the part of white studio heads/directors (like King Vidor) or black directors? I watched the Oscar Micheaux film Swing  (1938) yesterday and that was referred to as a race film. Micheaux was black.

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1 hour ago, jawz63 said:

Did you know that numbers featuring black performers like Lena Horne and the Nicholas Brothers were removed from musicals when they were shown in some theaters in the South.

Check out Chapter 1 in this article. It gives a little history about the first “race films”. https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/portrayal.htm

Thanks for the link. Yes, I was aware of scenes being removed. Its unfortunate

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I'm not in this field, but those would probably be called race films as well. American history tends to focus on white-black, but of course there are other minorities and the treatment of them can be quite disparate.

At the risk of stirring the pot, I watched SWING TIME earlier today, and in a certain way I'd say it's a quite  'white' film. In particular, this occured when you think about Lucky's character and all the various things he does and gets away with. I don't think it was consciously meant to be about race in some way, but it's hard to ignore watching it today, especially when a major number involves Astaire in blackface.

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Thanks for opening an interesting topic. I had always thought that the term 
"race films" or "race movie" like "race music" was a construction of critics or scholars 
who were studying these art forms from a historical perspective. But I learned that is not
the case. Here's an interesting article that helped fill in some detail for me. 
http://dhbasecamp.humanities.ucla.edu/afamfilm/whatis/definition/

I've read that movies marketed to Asians in that period of time- after WW1 through the '40s
were referred to as race films (The Silk Bouquet" 1926 for one).
Don't think the phrase was widely used in that fashion though.

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3 hours ago, dfishgrl said:

Thanks for opening an interesting topic. I had always thought that the term 
"race films" or "race movie" like "race music" was a construction of critics or scholars 
who were studying these art forms from a historical perspective. But I learned that is not
the case. Here's an interesting article that helped fill in some detail for me. 
http://dhbasecamp.humanities.ucla.edu/afamfilm/whatis/definition/

I've read that movies marketed to Asians in that period of time- after WW1 through the '40s
were referred to as race films (The Silk Bouquet" 1926 for one).
Don't think the phrase was widely used in that fashion though.

Thanks for the link.  The website and their research are fascinating.

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17 hours ago, BrianBlake said:

I'm not in this field, but those would probably be called race films as well. American history tends to focus on white-black, but of course there are other minorities and the treatment of them can be quite disparate.

At the risk of stirring the pot, I watched SWING TIME earlier today, and in a certain way I'd say it's a quite  'white' film. In particular, this occured when you think about Lucky's character and all the various things he does and gets away with. I don't think it was consciously meant to be about race in some way, but it's hard to ignore watching it today, especially when a major number involves Astaire in blackface.

Its interested you brought up Swing Time and Astaire's black face number. He did want to pay tribute to Bill Robinson who was one of his influences but RKO coerced him into performing in blackface. He wasn't allowed to do the number and tribute just as himself...he could only do in blackface. You can tell even in character as he dances he doesn't want to be in blackface and cringes at a few points.

I also think about the number in Shall We Dance where he dances with black engineers in the boiler room. I haven't seen that movie in a long time but I remember thinking how was Astaire allowed to hang out with these black men and everybody was "Cool" with each other. I do remember some stereotyped exaggerated grins and smiles but other than that, the scene seems like a way to make up for the blackfacenumber of the previous film. 

Also, interesting point about Lucky. He is a professional gambler. Its accepted that that is his character and its not problematic. However, I know gambling was a  negative stereotype about blacks  but on a white actor like Fred Astaire he gets into comic situations and is eventually changed by love. His gambling and lying throughout the movie doesn't reflect negatively upon his character as a man or more importantly, his race. 

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3 hours ago, dfishgrl said:

Thanks for opening an interesting topic. I had always thought that the term 
"race films" or "race movie" like "race music" was a construction of critics or scholars 
who were studying these art forms from a historical perspective. But I learned that is not
the case. Here's an interesting article that helped fill in some detail for me. 
http://dhbasecamp.humanities.ucla.edu/afamfilm/whatis/definition/

I've read that movies marketed to Asians in that period of time- after WW1 through the '40s
were referred to as race films (The Silk Bouquet" 1926 for one).
Don't think the phrase was widely used in that fashion though.

Oh I forgot about race music. Good one and you're welcome!

Thanks for the link! It has been very insightful and informative reading. This is a history I am not familiar with admittedly but its extremely important and needs to be taught and recognized more. Anyway, so the term "race" in this context was a term made or created in the black community of directors and was meant to invoke a sense of pride and uplift and culture. Not an insult or condescension on the part of white studio execs as I thought. I remember what Dr Ament said about King Vidor and Hallelujah. Vidor wanted to make a race film and show African American culture and southern society in positive light to a presumably white middle class demographic.

The article also made me consider my own (mostly informal on my own but I have had some film studies courses) knowledge about early film. All the  things I learned/was taught about the very early pioneers of filmmaking,silent movies, production companies etc center around whites like Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks and Biograph and Famous Players-Lasky, etc. But not about people like Micheaux, Lawrence Chenault, the Maurice Film Corporation, and the circuit of stars mentioned. The narrative needs to be much more inclusive and diverse. 

I have never heard about the movie The Silk Bouquet but its interesting films marketed towards Asians (though I wonder if this meant Asian Americans/immigrants or markets actually living in Asian countries) were also referred to as race films. So it does seem like "race" denoted anybody who was not Caucasian but seems applied to heavily (?) for black people. 

You're mentioning of The Silk Bouquet reminded me of DW Griffith's film Broken Blossoms from 1918. I saw it years ago and wanted to find any references to it being a race film. I across this clip.

 

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9 hours ago, Brittany Ashley said:

 

Also, interesting point about Lucky. He is a professional gambler. Its accepted that that is his character and its not problematic. However, I know gambling was a  negative stereotype about blacks  but on a white actor like Fred Astaire he gets into comic situations and is eventually changed by love. His gambling and lying throughout the movie doesn't reflect negatively upon his character as a man or more importantly, his race. 

In how it's conveyed, no, his gambling doesn't come off negatively. But there's still numerous lines about how he needs to change his ways, and it's implied that he does at the end after he loses a key bet and the main romance culiminates. I think that's how this movie loosely satisfies the code, not all that different from how many film noir movies manipulated their way into satisfying the code but still getting a bleaker vision across.

I don't think it reflects negatively on his character or anything. But it's also obvious, when you think about it, that if they made that character an asian lead role or a black lead role, I don't think sections of the movie would've worked for audiences. So in that way, it does reflect his race.

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I think yours is a great question.  The film industry, at least in Hollywood, treated anything that wasn't lilywhite as a race film, regardless of which non-white race. Interestingly, one of Louise Rainiers biggest successes was a race film, "the Good Earth" based on the novel by Pearl S. Buck. 

Different aspects of the industry had remarkably different perceptions of race films. The "front office" might look down on them as a necessity for building minority markets, but the writers and directors often found them inspiring, giving them a chance for artistic expression than more mainstream scripts. 

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1 hour ago, bibbitzdad said:

The "front office" might look down on them as a necessity for building minority markets, but the writers and directors often found them inspiring, giving them a chance for artistic expression than more mainstream scripts. 

I can't think of a time when studios genuinely tried to (sort of attempt) inclusive of racial minorities besides WW2 when the emphasis was on getting all hands on deck for the cause. Something like Cabin in the Sky or Stormy Weather seem like just about the only films that took non white markets seriously. I guess you can include the earlier The Green Pastures to a lesser extent (a movie I am surprised we haven't discussed yet but maybe we wiill eventually). 

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I think when watching Hallelujah, one should acknowledge that it is an African American film. Then watch the great performances and how the story is told, without focusing on race and enjoy a great film. Walking away with a great experience and fully entertained.

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Brittany, thanks for raising this topic, and thanks for mentioning Oscar Micheaux.   After hearing the discussion of   Hallelujah  and Cabin in the Sky,  both of which had white directors, I’ve been wondering whether any musicals were helmed by black directors, or whether the high production costs prevented such directors from being able to make musicals.

Also, I’ve never heard of The Silk Bouquet —  will have to look for it. I hope it doesn’t have the embarrassing casting of white actors playing Asians that we’ve seen in so many films over the years (think Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). 

 

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Here's another early entry for "race films," perhaps even rarer than something like The Silk Bouquet. After many years and much detective work, The Daughter of Dawn, a  Native American movie filmed in Oklahoma, has been restored and is available. In fact, you can stream it on Netflix.

Here's a story about the film:

 

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On 6/5/2018 at 12:43 PM, Brittany Ashley said:

Upon reviewing lecture notes from yesterdays 1920s lesson, I have a couple of questions about the so-called race films.

A ) If films made and marketed to the black audience were called race films, what about other minority groups like Asians and Latinos? Were there films created with these groups in mind (like Hallelujah for African Americans) and if there were, what were they called? It seems like anything related to black people was labelled "race" but what about other non-white groups? I doubt -what we would call in 2018- non black people of color (NBPOC) were considered part of the "white market" since technically they were not white. Also, why was the word "race" just applied to black people instead of other non white groups? 

B ) who first coined the term "race films" white creators or black? Was it a marketing term on the part of white studio heads/directors (like King Vidor) or black directors? I watched the Oscar Micheaux film Swing  (1938) yesterday and that was referred to as a race film. Micheaux was black.

Any film marketed to black audiences was considered a race film. It seems so insulting now, doesn't it?

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1 minute ago, Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament said:

Any film marketed to black audiences was considered a race film. It seems so insulting now, doesn't it?

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?

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On 6/6/2018 at 10:42 AM, Brittany Ashley said:

Its interested you brought up Swing Time and Astaire's black face number. He did want to pay tribute to Bill Robinson who was one of his influences but RKO coerced him into performing in blackface. He wasn't allowed to do the number and tribute just as himself...he could only do in blackface. You can tell even in character as he dances he doesn't want to be in blackface and cringes at a few points.

I also think about the number in Shall We Dance where he dances with black engineers in the boiler room. I haven't seen that movie in a long time but I remember thinking how was Astaire allowed to hang out with these black men and everybody was "Cool" with each other. I do remember some stereotyped exaggerated grins and smiles but other than that, the scene seems like a way to make up for the blackfacenumber of the previous film. 

Also, interesting point about Lucky. He is a professional gambler. Its accepted that that is his character and its not problematic. However, I know gambling was a  negative stereotype about blacks  but on a white actor like Fred Astaire he gets into comic situations and is eventually changed by love. His gambling and lying throughout the movie doesn't reflect negatively upon his character as a man or more importantly, his race. 

Fred Astaire was in a movie called "You'll Never Get Rich"-- where he plays a musical comedy director who gets drafted into the Army.

Well as luck would have it, he ends up in the brig and there he does a tap dance number. If you ever get to see this, you'll notice that there are black men in the brig with him .

And it's common knowledge that there was nothing in the Army that was integrated during World War II.

But I believe it was meant to add something to the number.

Today when you see movies and scenes with black people,  who never would have been allowed to be in those places in the 1940 s or 50s or 60s-- that is some kind of a ploy to erase Jim Crow history. Today it's nice to give those black actors and actresses a job, but it also is a ploy to cover up  the reality of American history.

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11 minutes ago, 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?

 In many cities black people were not allowed to enter white movie theaters.

And if they were allowed to enter, they had to sit either in the back in a special section or in the balcony in a special section.

It must have been very uplifting for them to go into an all-black theater and see a race movie which starred black Americans as ordinary, everyday human beings just like white people.

Many of the actors who were forced to play stereotypes in the mainstream white movies were allowed to play straight, normal roles in these race movies.

 

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On 6/6/2018 at 10:18 PM, Brittany Ashley said:

I can't think of a time when studios genuinely tried to (sort of attempt) inclusive of racial minorities besides WW2 when the emphasis was on getting all hands on deck for the cause. Something like Cabin in the Sky or Stormy Weather seem like just about the only films that took non white markets seriously. I guess you can include the earlier The Green Pastures to a lesser extent (a movie I am surprised we haven't discussed yet but maybe we wiill eventually). 

MGM did not have Vincente Minnelli make "Cabin in the Sky" for black audiences. Same thing with "Stormy Weather".

What you have to realize is that these black entertainers were on Broadway working to all white audiences and making a lot of money.

A number had started in The Cotton Club which was for all white audiences in Harlem.

These black entertainers were at the top of the rung snd played for all white audiences in expensive, swanky nightclubs.

Did you know that vaudeville was segregated?  But Bill Bojangles Robinson played white vaudeville, that's how big he was. And, Of course he headlined on Broadway.

These films were marketed to make money from the mainstream audience and they knew they could also pick up a few dollars from the black audiences as well.

The top black entertainers that you see in these movies were among the only black entertainers who were allowed to be on classic TV in the 1950s-- not counting the few who played servants.

Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, The Mills Brothers, Sammy Davis Jr, Count Basie,, Nat KingCole, to name a few-- these people were mainstream and they played to the top audiences. They were in the top Echelon of Show Business.

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1 hour ago, Princess of Tap said:

MGM did not have Vincente Minnelli make "Cabin in the Sky" for black audiences. Same thing with "Stormy Weather".

What you have to realize is that these black entertainers were on Broadway working to all white audiences and making a lot of money.

A number had started in The Cotton Club which was for all white audiences in Harlem.

These black entertainers were at the top of the rung snd played for all white audiences in expensive, swanky nightclubs.

Did you know that vaudeville was segregated?  But Bill Bojangles Robinson played white vaudeville, that's how big he was. And, Of course he headlined on Broadway.

These films were marketed to make money from the mainstream audience and they knew they could also pick up a few dollars from the black audiences as well.

The top black entertainers that you see in these movies were among the only black entertainers who were allowed to be on classic TV in the 1950s-- not counting the few who played servants.

Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, The Mills Brothers, Sammy Davis Jr, Count Basie,, Nat KingCole, to name a few-- these people were mainstream and they played to the top audiences. They were in the top Echelon of Show Business.

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.

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1 hour ago, Princess of Tap said:

Many of the actors who were forced to play stereotypes in the mainstream white movies were allowed to play straight, normal roles in these race movies.

I recently saw Swing (Oscar Micheaux) and Theresa Harris has a very brief dancer in an audition for a show. I was  pleased to see her but had the same thought. She was a pretty woman forced to play in background as a maid for a white character. It was nice seeing her have fun, show her dancing talent and wear a sexy costume. 

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1 hour ago, Princess of Tap said:

Fred Astaire was in a movie called "You'll Never Get Rich"-- where he plays a musical comedy director who gets drafted into the Army.

Well as luck would have it, he ends up in the brig and there he does a tap dance number. If you ever get to see this, you'll notice that there are black men in the brig with him .

I have seen that movie (own the DVD) but haven't actually watched it in over a decade. I don't remember this specific number well but it is interesting this number is included because like you said the military was segregsted with no plans of integration.

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11 minutes ago, 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.

I guess I didn't make myself clear-- these performers were already stars on Broadway and in all-white nightclubs. This was an attempt to Showcase Black Talent and make money on them because the white audiences were demanding them.

Bill Bojangles Robinson, Ethel Waters, and John Bubbles with his partner Buck were some of the biggest Headliners on Broadway for white audiences.

In the 1930s the white audiences were willing to accept black people as entertainers and as stereotyped servants.

Cab Calloway was one of the richest men in the United States, and so was Stepin Fetchit.

If you have seen a fair amount of classic films you will see the Duke Ellington Orchestra, you'll see Lena Horne, you'll see the Nicholas Brothers throughout all these films because the white audience demanded them.

Sequences with black entertainers were only cut out in the south,  to strengthen Jim Crow laws that did not allow them to be shown. Gene Kelly's movie with Judy Garland,  The Pirate had difficulties with its budget and more difficulties by getting the scenes where Gene danced with the Nicholas Brothers cut out in the south. Jim Crow laws did not allow you to show people of different races dancing together. I would have to say that Shirley Temple as a child dancing with Bojangles as a " colored " servant was the only exception to that rule.

Hollywood is not attempting to do anything to get white people to accept  black people on film, Golden Age Hollywood is trying to make money by catering to the whims of the white mainstream public.

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3 minutes ago, Princess of Tap said:

I guess I didn't make myself clear-- these performers were already stars on Broadway and in all-white nightclubs. This was an attempt to Showcase Black Talent and make money on them because the white audiences were demanding them.

Bill Bojangles Robinson, Ethel Waters, and John Bubbles with his partner Buck were some of the biggest Headliners on Broadway for white audiences.

In the 1930s the white audiences were willing to accept black people as entertainers and as stereotyped servants.

Cab Calloway was one of the richest men in the United States, and so was Stepin Fetchit.

If you have seen a fair amount of classic films you will see the Duke Ellington Orchestra, you'll see Lena Horne, you'll see the Nicholas Brothers throughout all these films because the white audience demanded them.

Sequences with black entertainers were only cut out in the south,  to strengthen Jim Crow laws that did not allow them to be shown. Gene Kelly's movie with Judy Garland,  The Pirate had difficulties with its budget and more difficulties by getting the scenes where Gene danced with the Nicholas Brothers cut out in the south. Jim Crow laws did not allow you to show people of different races dancing together. I would have to say that Shirley Temple as a child dancing with Bojangles as a " colored " servant was the only exception to that rule.

Hollywood is not attempting to do anything to get white people to accept  black people on film, Golden Age Hollywood is trying to make money by catering to the whims of the white mainstream public.

I understand now, thank you for clarifying. 

What I don't understand is on the one hand, white audiences clearly liked, were fans of and wanted to see black entertainers on screen yet, apparently, did not have a issue with otherwise racist and stereotypical depictions of black people? I'm trying to understand that mindset and square that in my mind because it doesn't make sense. Seems like a situation of loving the art but not the people (who weren't talented entertainers). Very sad and unfortunate.

I knew about cutting certain scenes for white southern audiences. You can even tell when and where something was cut. The scenes also look like they were staged and set up in such a way that would make cuts and edits easier. 

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9 minutes ago, Brittany Ashley said:

I recently saw Swing (Oscar Micheaux) and Theresa Harris has a very brief dancer in an audition for a show. I was  pleased to see her but had the same thought. She was a pretty woman forced to play in background as a maid for a white character. It was nice seeing her have fun, show her dancing talent and wear a sexy costume. 

I think one of the problems that people have today when they do classic films is that they don't have a good understanding of the Society of the time we're talking about.

Hattie McDaniel was an unbelievably great actress in classic film. She supported all the great movie stars like, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow,   Bette  Davis, Olivia de Havilland etc. Everyone knows her because of the stereotypical performance she gave in Gone With the Wind. She won an Oscar for that performance and she was the first black person to win a major Oscar. She wasn't given that Oscar because they wanted to do something for a minority group, she was given the Oscar  ask because she supported the stars and made the film great entertainment.

The NAACP was always supercritical of her portrayals in the movies. If you look on YouTube you can find the mansion that she lived in.

She daid to the press that she was glad to be playing a maid in a movie and making a lot of money and not being a maid in real life. The 1920s 30s 40s 50s 60s right up to the 70s, most black people were in subservient jobs, if they were lucky to have jobs at all.

Black people were not allowed to clerk in mainstream stores Woolworth's,JCPenney's or Sears unless they were in an all-black section of town.

Black people had no visual presence in the public sphere except as servants or in some stereotypical wildly popular radio program where white men blacked up in Amos and Andy-- it was radio but the two white actors would black up for promotional photos.

Photographs of black people were not allowed in many Metropolitan newspapers and you would never see black people in magazine advertising. In the classic age of Television you didn't see black people in television commercials.

What I'm trying to say is that this was such a segregated country that you have to say a black person playing a servant in a mainstream movie and making that kind of money was very lucky indeed.

Today we can look at those people as horrible stereotypes -- but it was what the mainstream white audience wanted to see and wanted to believe about black people.

One of the few people who got to work and had a lot of autonomy and respect in his program was Eddie Rochester Anderson on the Jack Benny show on Radio and on television. He played a servant but he had an awful lot of tenacity and he was respected Within the staff on the program.

What makes this all so extraordinary is that black people only began getting any kind of reasonably middle class or upscale mainstream jobs in the a very late sixties or early seventies. When people say they would like to go back to a better time, I can just imagine what it is that they are referring to.

Anyone who got to work in mainstream movies in the golden era was lucky and very well-paid.

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.

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