This past Wednesday (July 16) the US Postal Service issued a stamp set that honors five early films in early Black Cinema.
Black and Tan – a 19-minute film released in 1929 featuring Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra.
Caldonia – a 18 minute short films, which was released in 1945. It showcased singer, saxophonist and bandleader Louis Jordan.
Hallelujah – a 1929 movie released by MGM. It was one of the first films from a major studio to feature an all-black cast. Producer-director King Vidor was nominated for an Academy Award for his attempt to portray rural African-American life, especially religious experience.
Princess Tam-Tam – a 1935 film starring Josephine Baker as a simple African woman presented to Paris society as royalty.
The Sport of the Gods – a 1921 film based on the book by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Of the five, I’ve only seen Hallelujah. It is a bit difficult to watch as it is unlike any other early musical. It far more complex than the typical backstage musical of the twenties and thirties. Nevertheless, it is really worth seeing.
The history surrounding not only these films but all of early black cinema is simply fascinating, It one of the most rich, frustrating, and brilliant aspects of early American cinema and I encourage anyone to read about the subject.
In fact, you can begin with these two books:
Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker
Disintegrating the Musical: Black Performance and American Musical Film