Nina Mae McKinney

Nina Mae McKinney 4Born Nannie Mayme McKinney to Hal and Georgia McKinney on June 12, 1912 in Lancaster, South Carolina, McKinney was brought up by a great-aunt, Carrie Sanders, in Lancaster when her parents moved to New York in search of better opportunities. Stage struck at an early age, she appeared in plays at the black Lancaster Industrial School and taught herself to dance. At the age of 13, she joined her parents in New York and by the age of sixteen Nannie Mayme chose the stage name Nina Mae and managed to land a role in the chorus line of the hit Broadway show ‘Blackbirds’ starring Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and Adelaide Hall. Her performance caught the attention of one of Hollywood’s leading directors, MGM’s King Vidor and he cast her as bad girl, Chick, in his film Hallelujah (1929). Hallelujah was billed as “a story of murder and redemption in the Deep South”, and was the first sound feature film with an all-black cast.

Nina Mae McKinney 2Critics heaped praise upon the young star, and Vidor described her as ‘beautiful and talented and glowing with personality’. However, McKinney soon realized that there was no place in Hollywood at that time for a black leading lady. Nina’s performance netted her a five-year contract with MGM. She was the first African-American actor to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio. The studio seemed reluctant to star her in feature films. She was a leading lady in an industry that had no leading roles for black women and fell into a round of minor support roles such as a specialty singer or dancer, a vamp or the domestic in films like They Learn About Women (1930), Safe in Hell (1931), and Reckless (1935) for which most of her scenes were cut. Frustrated with career limitations and unable to fulfil her potential in America, she followed in the footsteps of Josephine Baker and left the United States for Europe.

Nina Mae McKinneyMcKinney arrived in London with her accompanist, pianist Garland Wilson, to star in Chocolate and Cream, a revue at the Leicester Square Theatre. McKinney also participated in one of John Logie Baird’s experimental television programs, transmitted live on February 17, 1933 and became the first black artist to be seen on British television. Cabaret engagements followed and, in May 1933, a Pathe newsreel captured her on stage at the Trocadero restaurant in Charles B. Cochran’s revue Revels in Rhythm.

McKinney’s career in British cinema continued with a low-budget comedy, Kentucky Minstrels (1934), starring Harry Scott and Eddie Whaley, the African-American stars of the British variety stage and radio. McKinney made a guest appearance with Debroy Somers and his band. Film Weekly’s reviewer noted, “As the star of the final spectacular revue, [she] is the best thing in the picture” (Film Weekly, May 24, 1934). The following year, in a cast that also included H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, she sang the jazz classic ‘Dinah’ during the broadcast of a radio show called Music Hall in BBC: the Voice of Britain, John Grierson and the GPO film unit’s ‘official’ documentary about the BBC. In Sanders of the River (1935), produced by Alexander Korda, she co-starred with Paul Robeson. As Robeson’s African ‘native’ wife, McKinney was suitably exotic and decorative, but Film Weekly (April 12, 1935) noted that she was miscast, “as much at home in the jungle as, say, a Harlem night-club entertainer”.

Nina Mae McKinney 6

McKinney’s appeal to the British public broadened as she undertook several lengthy and successful variety tours. Known by now as ‘the Black Garbo’, from 1933 to 1937 she topped the bill in many of the country’s popular music halls in variety shows. At the Belfast Ritz in 1936 she was featured on the bill with Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson and his Jamaican Emperors of Jazz. She was among the first African-Americans to perform at the London Palladium and was part of a Royal Command Performance for King George V.

Shortly after the BBC launched its regular high-definition television service from Alexandra Palace on November 2, 1936, McKinney was contracted to star in her own variety shows, Ebony and Dark Laughter (both 1937). She also appeared on the BBC’s Television Demonstration Film (1937), a survey of BBC television during its first six months of operation (and one of the few surviving records of pre-war television).
In her private life McKinney led a troubled, self-destructive existence. In 1936 an opportunity to star opposite Paul Robeson in another film, Song of Freedom, fell through. The actress who replaced her was another African-American expatriate, Elisabeth Welch, who said, “Nina thought that being a star meant that you must be temperamental. She made herself unpopular and ruined her career.”

Nina Mae McKinney 3When WWII broke out in Europe McKinney returned to the United States to join bandleader Pancho Diggs and his orchestra on tour. Some sources state that in 1940 she married the jazz musician Jimmy Monroe, with whom she put together a band and toured the USA (other sources state they married in 1935 and divorced in 1938). She later returned to Hollywood and tried to resurrect her film career, but the only roles that were available to her were stereotypical maids to stars like Irene Dunne, Merle Oberon, and Hedy Lamarr. However, while Hollywood could not accept a young, beautiful black actress, she did appear in a number of all-Black-themed or race films, Gang Smashers/Gun Moll (1938), The Devil’s Daughter (1939), and Mantan Messes Up (1946). In 1949 she appeared in what many considered her finest film role, as Rozelia in director Elia Kazan’s Pinky. The film revolved around a light-skinned southern Black woman passing for white in the North, in which McKinney was ironically cast in the supporting role, with the lead going to a white actress.

Her last film appearance was an uncredited bit part in the 1950 western, Copper Canyon. In 1951, McKinney made her last stage appearance, playing Sadie Thompson in a summer stock production of Rain. McKinney returned to Europe in the 1950s, living in Athens, Greece where she reprised her role as the ‘Queen of the Night Life’ performing in cabarets.

Nina Mae McKinney 7Nina Mae McKinney returned to New York in 1960. Sadly, when she succumbed to a heart attack on May 3, 1967 at the age of 54, her death went unnoticed in the entertainment industry and by the media, except for a small notice in a local paper. Trade papers such as Variety and Black publications such as Jet and Ebony didn’t even print an obituary. On her death certificate she was described as a widow and her occupation recorded as “domestic for private families.” There was no mention that she had been an actress and singer. Nevertheless her contribution to cinema was recognized in 1978 with a posthumous award from America’s Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

Hallelujah! (1929)
They Learned About Women – Uncredited (1930)
Safe in Hell Leonie (1931)
Pie, Pie Blackbird (1932)
Passing the Buck (1932)
Kentucky Minstrels – Uncredited (1932)
Sanders of the River (1935)
Reckless (1935)
The Lonely Trail Dancer – Uncredited (1936)
Gang Smashers (1938)
The Devil’s Daughter (1939)
Straight to Heaven (1939)
Dark Waters (1944)
Together Again (1944)
The Power of the Whistler – Uncredited (1945)
Mantan Messes Up (1946)
Night Train to Memphis (1946)
Danger Street (1947)
Pinky (1949)
Copper Canyon (1950)

Source(s): Find a Grave, Brit Movie, Black History Now, Screenonline, IMDB.



Poster Sister Against Sister In A Burning Drama Of Love And Hate In The Tropics

Year of Release:  1939
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  N/A
Runtime:  67 mins.
Black & White
Studio:  Sack Amusement Enterprises
Producer:  Arthur Leonard
Director:  Arthur Leonard

Nina Mae McKinney (Isabelle Walton)
Jack Carter (Philip Ramsay)
Ida James (Sylvia Walton)
Hamtree Harrington (Percy Jackson)
Willa MacLane (Elvira)
Emmett Wallace (John Lowden)


After song and dance

In Jamaica, after a song and a cockfight, Percy Jackson, a Harlem conman, tries to win the fighter roosters. Elvira, Sylvia Walton’s servant, likes Percy.  Sylvia, also recently arrived from New York, is the younger half-sister of Isabelle Walton, who has been running their late father’s banana plantation, although he willed it to Sylvia.Sylvia Walton

While she has long been loved by John Lowden, Sylvia now favors her overseer, Philip Ramsay, irritating John.

Sylvia confides to John that she misses Harlem

Elvira takes Percy to Isabelle, who is now hiding out in the jungle, and Isabelle tells Percy that his soul has been transferred into a particular pig, which must be protected.

Elvira introduces Percy to Isabelle

Percy believes his soul is in a pig

Sylvia is unnerved by Jamaican superstitions, and anxious to maintain control of the plantation, Isabelle hopes to scare her into returning to New York. Isabelle also knows Philip has been stealing from Sylvia.  Philip proposes marriage to Sylvia, but she waits to give him her answer.

Philip asks Sylvia to marry himSylvia meets with Isabelle and proposes they split the estate. But Isabelle wants all or nothing and also wants John’s love for herself. Isabelle drugs Sylvia’s drink, so that Isabelle, whose mother was Haitian, can subject Sylvia to the “obeah blood dance ritual”.

Isabelle professes her love for John

Sylvia has spoiled Isabelle's plans

John overhears Philip planning to leave with Sylvia’s money, and after a fight, Philip confesses Isabelle’s plans.

John overhears Philip planning to leave the islandPhilip confesses to John

As Isabelle recites the death incantation, John interrupts the ceremony.

Isabelle presides over the ceremony Sylvia is unconsciousThe blood dance

The ceremony is interrupted

Isabelle gives John an ultimatum, send Sylvia back to New York and never see her again and she will stop the ceremony. John confronts Isabelle

Eventually Isabelle admits that Sylvia is not under a spell and was only drugged. When she learns the police have been called, Isabelle dismisses her followers and tells them they were only having a little ‘pocomania.’

Elvira and Percy also arrive on the scene, having spent the evening searching for Percy’s “soul” pig, unaware that the cook has already slaughtered it. Percy and Elvira interrupt the ceremony

John reunites the two sisters, and Isabelle tells Sylvia the truth about Philip, that he only pretended to love her because he wanted the plantation. Isabelle explains to Percy that the pig story was a joke and they agree sit down for a meal of roast pork.

Isabelle tells Sylvia the truth about PhillipThey wil all be having roast pig


The Devil’s Daughter was also reviewed under the title Pocomania, a word used by Isabelle to describe the “obeah.”

Although reviews and modern sources commonly identify Isabelle as a practitioner of voodoo, this word is never used in the film, instead, her supposed magical power is called “obeah.”

Remake of the 1936 film Ouanga (also known as Drums in the Night, Drums of the Jungle, Love Wanga) which starred Fredi Washington, Philip Brandon, and Marie Paxton.


Whitney and Bobby movie promo]a/k/a  I Will Always Love You: The Whitney Houston Story

Release Date:  1/17/15 (Lifetime)
Genre:  Drama/Biography
Rating: Not Available
Studio:  Lifetime
Director:  Angela BassettWhitney Still

Cast:  Yaya DaCosta (Whitney Houston), Arlen Escarpeta (Bobby Brown), Yolonda Ross (Robyn Crawford), Suzzanne Douglas (Cissy Houston), Mark Rolston (Clive Davis).

Details:  On 12/3/14 Shadow and Act reported, Whitney chronicles the headline-making relationship between the iconic singer, actress, producer and model Whitney Houston and singer and songwriter Bobby Brown from the time they first met at the very height of their celebrity to their courtship and tumultuous marriage.  Houston’s vocal performances in the film are sung by Deborah Cox. The music featured in the film includes Houston’s hits “The Greatest Love of All,” “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” “I’m Every Woman” and “I Will Always Love You” as well as Brown’s “Every Little Step.”  Source:  Shadow and Act.



On 7/16/14 The New York Daily News reported, the first images from I Will Always Love You: The Whitney Houston Story were released earlier this week, one of which shows DaCosta recreating Houston’s iconic cover for her 1987 album “Whitney.” The other shows Escarpeta hugging DaCosta in a pose familiar to how Brown and Houston were often photographed.

One thing DaCosta won’t be recreating is the “Greatest Love of All” singer’s vocals. E! News reports that R&B star Deborah Cox will supply the vocal tracks for the actress’ musical performances.

The biopic, which is being directed by Houston’s Waiting to Exhale co-star Angela Bassett, is currently filming and is expected to debut on Lifetime in 2015.  Source:  The New York Daily News, IMDB.  Photo Source:  The Wrap.

According to an article published by the Daily Mail Reporter, former America’s Next Top Model contestant, Yaya Dacosta Alafia, will play Whitney Houston in an upcoming Lifetime Original Movie biopic set for release in 2015. According to Shadow and Act, the TV movie, tentatively titled “Whitney Houston” will chronicle the headline-making relationship between the iconic singer, actress, producer and model and singer, songwriter Bobby Brown. It will be set in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s, during the early years of the couple’s relationship from the first time they met to their courtship and tumultuous marriage. Veteran actress Angela Bassett will make her directorial debut from a script penned by Shem Bitterman, who also wrote the 2013 Lifetime Original Movie, Betty & Coretta, in which Bassett starred in the title role of Coretta Scott King.

Alafia has some mighty big shoes to fill in playing the legendary diva, but the former reality TV star does have some acting experience as she previously had roles in All My Children, Ugly Betty, House, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Big Words, The Kids Are All Right, and TRON: Legacy.

While many fans are excited about the project, according to TMZ, Whitney’s family is ‘pissed’ about the made-for-television movie because they feel she deserves so much more. Pat Houston, Whitney’s sister-in-law, told the gossip site:  “Whitney is certainly worthy of more than a television movie. If Whitney were here today, this would not be happening.”  Whitney’s estate has reportedly already informed Lifetime of their displeasure and is said to be threatening a lawsuit if the network refuses to cancel production. The singer’s loved ones are planning their own big screen movie in the style of Michael Jackson’s This Is It, which they feel would be a more fitting tribute to the musical icon.  Sources: Daily Mail Reporter, Shadow and Act, TMZ.

Surprise, Surprise!!!

Release Date: 6/17/14; DVD
Genre:  Comedy
Rating:  NR
Running Time: 108 mins.
Studio:  Maverick Entertainment
Director:  Crosby Tatum

Surprise, Surprise!!!

Cast:  Crosby Tatum (Crosby Tylor), Jae Holland (J), J.D. Achille (Cynthia Simpson), Kandace C. Cummings (AP), Alison Wachtler (Adrian Lyman).

Story:  A socially-awkward, heavy-set college student conducts a Philosophy class experiment by conning his sexy, womanizing best friend into posing as “himself” to date a beautiful, charming woman from an online dating website. He’s doing all this to prevent himself from losing his scholarship, and flunking out of school. Once the truth unfolds, he realizes it was a huge mistake. (Sources: Maverick Entertainment, official site; IMDB).



Bessie Still a/k/a Blue Goose Hollow
Release Date:  5/16/15 (HBO)
Genre:  Drama/Biography
MPAA Rating:  Not Available
Studio(s):  Flavor Unit, Zanuck Company, Shelby Stone Productions, HBO
Director:  Dee Rees

Cast:  Queen Latifah (Bessie Smith), Michael K. Williams (Jack Gee), Tika Sumpter (Lucille), Khandi Alexander (Viola), Mike Epps (Richard), Mo’Nique (Ma Rainey), Charles S. Dutton (William “Pa” Rainey), Bryan Greenberg (John Hammond), Oliver Platt (Carl Van Vechten).

Story:  Film focuses on Smith’s transformation from a struggling young singer into “The Empress of the Blues,” who became one of the most successful recording artists of the 1920s and is an enduring icon today.  Source:  HBO.

See Critics’ Connection for what the critics said about this film.




Update:  Shadow & Act reported on 2/24/15 that the film will offer an intimate look at the determined woman whose immense talent and love for music took her from anonymity in the rough-and-tumble world of vaudeville to the 1920s blues scene and international fame, capturing her professional highs and personal lows, and ultimate legend.

On July 10th, Eurweb reported that HBO released a cast list and other details regarding its upcoming film Bessie.  Co-stars include Michael K. Williams (Boardwalk Empire) as Bessie’s husband Jack; Khandi Alexander (Scandal) as Bessie’s big sister, Viola; Mike Epps as Richard, a bootlegger and romantic interest; Tika Sumpter (The Haves and Have Nots) as Lucille, a performer and romantic interest; Tory Kittles (True Detective) as Bessie’s older brother Clarence; Oliver Platt, as fame photographer and writer Carl Van Vechten; Charles Dutton as Ma Rainey’s husband, William “Pa” Rainey; and Oscar winner Mo’Nique as blues legend Ma Rainey.

Written and directed by Dee Rees, the movie will focus on “Smith’s transformation from a struggling young singer into ‘Empress of the Blues’ and one of the most successful recording artists of the 1920s,” notes HBO in a statement.  Source(s):  Eurweb, HBO.


Details:  Rapper, award winning actress, and talk show host Queen Latifah will star in and executive produce a biopic for HBO based on the life of iconic blues singer Bessie Smith. Known as the “Empress of the Blues” and considered the greatest blues singer of all time, Smith sang alongside Ma ‘Mother of the Blues’ Rainey at an early age. She later performed in minstrel shows and cabarets to become a successful singer and vaudevillian actress and eventually rose to become the most acclaimed and highly paid African American entertainer of the 1920s and ’30s. In spite of her many successes, Smith fought to overcome the challenges of a stormy personal life, including a tempestuous marriage and bisexual relationships. Her career took a hit due to alcoholism and the Great Depression, and as she was trying to make a comeback, she lost her life in a major car accident.

The film is based on Chris Albertson’s biography Bessie and the screenplay is being penned by Dee Rees, writer-director of the critically acclaimed Pariah. According to a Shadow and Act columnist, who viewed a February 2014 draft of the screenplay, it features 20 musical numbers and the story is “a wild ride led by Bessie’s bubbling personality, free-wheeling style and push to steer her own life and career. Her character is portrayed as brash, feisty and unafraid to fight, which makes her an electric performer but wreaks havoc in her personal life.”

It is rumored that production is set to begin this month (mid-June 2014) in Atlanta. (Sources: Moviepilot; Project Casting; Shadow and Act).

Basketball Girlfriend

Basketball GirlfriendRelease Date:  6/24/14; Direct-to-video
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  NR
Running Time:  75 mins.
Studio:  Nu-Lite Entertainment; eOne Entertainment
Director:  Jean-Claude La Marre
Cast:  Eurika Pratts (Carmen Johnson), Miguel A. Núñez, Jr. (Mr. Murray), Ernest Dancy   (Tyrone), Ernest Thomas (Lenny), Kristian Bernard (Blak), Jean-Claude La Marre (The Hatian).
Story:  Tyrone is one of the top college basketball stars in the country, but when his brother is released from prison he begins to feel the pressure of going back to hustling drugs on the street. Tyrone’s coach hopes to set his talented player straight by introducing him to Carmen. Carmen is a beautiful tutor, who in a tragic twist of fate turns out to be the sister of a rival drug lord. (Source: promotional material, IMDB).

Trailer:  Coming soon