ONCE UPON A TIME WHEN WE WERE COLORED ..........
Form: Phyllis C. Benton
Retrieved April 10, 2007 6:00pm EST
There were 461 "Colored" movie theaters across 1929 America owned and operated by African Americans and catering exclusively to "Colored" audiences. The largest number of "Colored" movie houses were in the South and Southwest. [Alabama, Arkansas; California; Connecticut; Florida; Georgia; Illinois; Indiana;Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maryland; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Missouri; Nebraska; New York; Texas; Virginia; Washington, DC; West Virginia] It must be noted that such large key points as Albany, Butte, Boston, Denver, Des Moines, Portland [my home town], Pittsburgh, Seattle, Salt Lake City were without a single "Colored" movie house.
It was in some of these "Colored Movie Houses" in Arkansas that my parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents went to view the feature of the day. These movie houses were havens of comfort to African Americans given the segregated climate of "Jim Crow" laws that governed their lives. While Jim Crow allowed Blacks entrance into segregated theaters, they were relegated to specific areas of the theaters and subjected to discrimination.
"JIM CROW LAWS REGARDING THEATERS
Every person...operating...any public hall, theater, opera house, motion picture show or any place of public entertainment or public assemblage which is attended by both white and colored persons, shall separate the white race and the colored race and shall set apart and designate...certain seats therein to be occupied by white persons and a portion thereof , or certain seats therein, to be occupied by colored persons. "
ONCE UPON A TIME WHEN WE WERE COLORED .......... "Race Films" and "All-Black Cast" movies were shown in these "Colored" movie Houses. In small Southern "Colored Movie Houses" movies were shown between 12 midnight until 2am. This was referred to as a "Midnight Ramble". These films were made by Black Independent film makers for Black audiences. Because of their exclusion from the mainstream movie industry, Independent film makers such as author-director Oscar Micheaux, known as the "Dean of Black Film Makers", began to form their own production companies making films with entirely African American cast and crew.
What made Micheaux unique was that Micheaux knew he had to go on the road to promote his picture. From then on, he traveled all over the country, going from town to town, theater to theater, screening and pre-selling his films to "Colored Movie Houses" that numbered in the hundreds across the country. Between 1919 and 1940 Micheaux produced about 35 feature films. He was the writer, producer, director, distributor, casting director, promoter. He did it all!
Hundreds of these "Race movies" were made in the silent period, mostly very low budget. But since they were free from the Hollywood system and rarely even noticed by the critics, these films could explore cutting social and racial issues that major studios would never touch. More importantly, they were the only films in which African-American audiences could see members of their race portrayed as intelligent and heroic rather than the crooks and lazy bums they were too often portrayed as.
After 1929, "Race Movies" made by Black producers started to die out when Hollywood saw a market. The mainstream industry began making films with All-Black casts for Black audiences thus choking off Black independent producers and distributors. Hollywood had the "funds" and their own agenda for making "money" from "Race Movies." Diving into the sound era, the Micheaux Film Corporation ceased operations in the late 40's. Micheaux hung on longer than most.
Today, Micheaux and his contemporary Black filmmakers are generally forgotten - most of their films lost or destroyed. Today's film makers owe a debt to the African American film pioneers like Oscar Micheaux, William D. Foster, the Johnson brothers[Noble & George], and Spencer Williams. jr...Read More
Phyllis C. Benton, owner MSW
ROBERTA HYSON SINGS Black Cinema Legend JAZZ 1929
"In The Spirit Of Oscar Micheaux"
By RBG Street Scholar
As we conscious Afrikans in the Amerikkkas are well aware, the gatekeeper, maintainer and upholder of the system and business white supremacy is their media; including books, TV, radio, newspapers, magazines etc. One of the overall purposes of this extensive discourse in the form of RBG Street Scholars Think Tank is to counter these psychologically incarcerating tools of oppression. A main influences and model for our work has been the great African-American filmmaker and writer Oscar Micheaux.
Important Term Defined: The race movie or race film was a cinematic genre which existed in the United States between about 1915 and 1945. It consisted of films produced for an all-black audience, featuring black casts.
In all, approximately five hundred race films were produced. Of these, fewer than one hundred remain. Because race films were produced outside of the Hollywood studio system, they have been largely forgotten by mainstream film historians. Nevertheless, in their day, race films were very popular among African American theatergoers, and their influence continues to be felt in cinema and television marketed to African Americans.
Cledisson Jules (1993 –1951) was a pioneering African American author and filmmaker, and without a doubt the most famous producer of race films.
Micheaux (or sometimes written as "Michaux"), was born near Metropolis, Illinois and grew up in Great Bend, Kansas, one of eleven children of former slaves. As a young boy he shined shoes and worked as a porter on the railway. As a young man, he very successfully homesteaded a farm in an all-white area of South Dakota where he began writing stories. Given the attitudes and restrictions on black people at the time, Micheaux overcame them by forming his own publishing company to buy his books door-to-house.
The advent of the motion picture industry intrigued him as a vehicle to tell his stories. He formed his own movie production company and in 1919 became the first African-American to make a film. He wrote, directed and produced the silent motion picture The Homesteader, starring the pioneering African American actress Evelyn Preer and based on his novel of the same name. He again used autobiographical elements in The Exile, his first feature film with sound, in which the central character leaves Chicago to buy and operate a ranch in South Dakota. In 1924 he introduced the moviegoing world to Paul Robeson in his film, Body and Soul.
Given the times, his accomplishments in publishing and film are extraordinary, including being the first African-American to produce a film to be shown in "white" movie theaters. In his motion pictures, he moved away from the "Negro" stereotypes being portrayed in film at the time. Additionally, in his film Within Our Gates, Micheaux attacked the racism depicted in D.W. Griffith's film, The Birth of a Nation.
The Producers Guild of America called him "The most prolific black - if not most prolific independent - filmmaker in American cinema." Over his illustrious career, Cledisson Micheaux wrote, produced and directed forty-four feature-length films between 1919 and 1948 and wrote seven novels, one of which was a national bestseller.
Micheaux died in Charlotte, North Carolina while on a business trip. His body was returned to Great Bend, Kansas, where he was interred in the Great Bend cemetery with other members of his family.