Rebirth Of Race Films Highlights Early Black Filmmakers

Jul 20, 2016

This month, Turner Classic Movies showcases the work of early African American filmmakers dating back to the 1920s. These “race films” were compiled by Atlanta filmmaker and producer Bret Wood, who talks with us about his work to preserve a golden age of cinema that’s long been forgotten.

 

The 1919 silent film "Within Our Gates" is directed by Oscar Micheaux, and he's considered to be the first important black film director. This film makes an attempt to respond to DW Griffith's 1915 film "Birth of a Nation" by pointing out the contributions of Black Americans.

The 1941 film "The Blood of Jesus" is about a woman who goes on a spiritual journey after accidentally being shot by her husband.

The 1932 film "10 Minutes to Live" is about a movie producer who offers a nightclub singer a role in his latest film, but all he really wants to do is bed her. She knows, but accepts anyway. Meanwhile, a patron at the club gets a note saying that she'll soon get another note, and that she will be killed ten minutes after that. The film features two African American actors here who are in blackface.

Actor Paul Robeson made his film debut in Oscar Micheaux's 1925 film "Body and Soul," which is about an escaped prisoner who goes to a predominantly African American town in Georgia, and passes himself off as a pastor. 

The films of Oscar Micheaux explore the complexities of being African American and having personal relationships. In the 1932 work "Veiled Aristocrats," a young African American woman is torn between a successful light skinned man and an idealistic entrepreneur with a darker complexion.