a/k/a ALL GOD’S STEPCHILDREN
Year of Release: 1938
Runtime: 105 mins.
Black & White
Studio: Micheaux Pictures Corp.
Director: Oscar Micheaux
Jacqueline Lewis (Naomi, as a child)
Ethel Moses (Mrs. Cushinberry/ her daughter Eva)
Alice B. Russell (Mrs. Saunders)
Charles Thompson (Jimmie, as a child)
Carman Newsome (Jimmie, the man)
Gloria Press (Naomi, the woman)
Alec Lovejoy (Ontrue Cowper)
Laura Bowman (Aunt Carrie)
A stranger arrives at the home of widow Mrs. Saunders and begs her to adopt her baby daughter, whom she cannot afford to feed. After the stranger leaves, Mrs. Saunders, a black woman, realizes that the child is white, and is advised by her friend to turn it over to the police. In the daylight, however, Mrs. Saunders sees that the child, which she has named “Naomi,” is black, and believes that the girl will make a good playmate for her son Jimmie.
Time passes, and Naomi, now a young schoolgirl, is thought by the other children to be aloof and is accused of not wanting to be black. When Naomi disappears on her way to school one day, Mrs. Saunders is told by Jimmie that Naomi deliberately avoided the black school she was supposed to attend and went to a white school. Naomi denies Jimmie’s accusation and tells her mother that he is lying because he hates girls. When Mrs. Cushinberry threatens to give Naomi a beating for being insolent and mean, Naomi, in an angry outburst, tells the teacher that she hates her and all the other children because they are black. Naomi rejects Mrs. Cushinberry’s insistence that “we’re all God’s children,” and tells her that God “didn’t make Negroes.”
That evening, Mrs. Cushinberry pays a visit to Mrs. Saunders to tell her about Naomi’s behavior, but when she realizes that Naomi has not told her mother about what happened, she decides to remain silent. Naomi, however, has been eavesdropping, and when the teacher leaves, she tells her mother that it was the teacher who was bad. Jimmie intervenes, however, and reveals the truth. Mrs. Saunders then gives Naomi a beating. Later, Naomi starts a rumor that Mrs. Cushinberry has been having an affair with a married professor, and a riot ensues at the school. The angry crowd of students march to the school superintendent’s house and demand that he fire both teachers. Mrs. Saunders, who has been told of the riot by Jimmie, rushes to the superintendent’s office to dispel the rumor started by her daughter.
While Naomi is sent to a convent, Jimmie, who has earned money by working as a Pullman porter invests in a farm. After proposing marriage to his sweetheart Eva, Jimmie invites his mother to live on his new farm. Naomi, who has been reformed by her life at the convent, apologizes to her mother for being a bad child. Jimmie’s mother arranges to have him take Naomi to the city for entertainment. Though things go well in the city, Eva’s aunt Carrie does not trust Naomi’s unnatural interest in Jimmie and believes that she should be watched. Aunt Carrie’s suspicions prove to be well-founded as Naomi soon confesses her love for her adopted brother.
When Jimmie, Eva and Naomi return to the country, Jimmie introduces Naomi to his friend, Clyde Wade, who immediately falls in love with her. Clyde is dark-skinned with a country accent. Naomi finds him repulsive and confesses to Jimmie that she has always wanted him to marry her. Realizing that Eva would be crushed by the loss of Jimmie, Naomi consents to marry Clyde.
Naomi marries a white man who realizes that she is a mulatto when he notices her reaction to seeing her son and her mother. Naomi tries to lie about her past, but he sees through it and turns her out. Naomi goes back to the farm one night and silently creeps up to the window, through which she sees a happy family scene that will never include her. After getting one last look at her family, Naomi drowns herself in the river.
The original version of the film contained footage that was cut soon after its release. The Exhibitor review refers to this film as All God’s Stepchildren. A trailer for the film contained the following title card: “God’s Step Children, from the story ‘Naomi Negress!’ With an all-star colored cast.”
“Naomi Negress!” May have been an original screen story written by the film’s director and producer, Oscar Micheaux. The cover sheet of the dialogue script contains a “producer’s note,” in which it is written that “all the characters appearing herein, regardless how bright in color they may seem, are all members of the Negro Race.”
According to a May 1938 New York Times article, the film was “withdrawn from circulation” two days after its premiere at the RKO Regent theater in New York. The decision to withdraw the picture was the result of an unfavorable audience reaction to the film and a protest outside the theater. The article quoted Beatrice Godloe, head of the Young Communist Committee, which organized the picket, as saying that the film “slandered Negroes, holding them up to ridicule, playing light-skinned Negroes against their darker brothers.” The film was eventually re-cut and the following scenes were removed from the print: The opening scene between the stranger and Mrs. Saunders in which the dialogue centers on “Naomi’s” skin color; a portion of the scene in which “Naomi’s” teacher says “we’re all God’s children” and Naomi responds “[God] didn’t make the black ones”; a flashback scene in which Mrs. Cushinberry and her alleged paramour profess their love for each other; and a brief sequence at the end showing Naomi with a white husband, who asks her why she has become troubled after having peered into a house with “two Colored people and a boy.”
Actress Alice B. Russell was Micheaux’s wife.
TCM; Blaxploitation Pride