The Brute (wikimedia commons)“To make a woman love you, KNOCK HER DOWN” – Bull Magee

Year of Release: 1920
Genre: Drama
Rating: N/A
Runtime: Not Available
Black & White
Studio: Micheaux Film Corporation
Producer & Director: Oscar Micheaux

Evelyn Preer (Mildred Carrison)
A.B. DeComathiere (Bull Magee)
Sam Langford (Tug Wilson)
Susie Sutton (Aunt Clara)
Lawrence Chenault (Herbert Lanyon)
Laura Bowman (Mrs. Carrison)
Mattie Edwards (A Guest in ‘The Hole’)
Alice Gorgas (Margaret Pendleton)
Virgil Williams (Referee)
Marty Cutler (Sidney Kirkwood)
Foy Clements (Irene Lanyon)
Louis Schooler (Klondike)


Herbert Lanyon and Mildred Carrison are engaged. When Herbert is presumed dead in a shipwreck, Mildred is forced by her gold digging Aunt Clara to marry gambler and crime boss, Bull Magee. Mildred is unhappy married to Bull who mistreats her. When Herbert is found alive, a repentant Aunt Clara and Herbert free Mildred from Magee, and the lovers are able to marry.

A subplot involves boxer “Tug” Wilson (played by boxing champion Sam Langford), who is ordered by his manager, Bull Magee, to throw a major fight at the film’s climax.


It is reported on Wikipedia that the original version of the film included a scene where the boxer defeats a white rival, but Micheaux was forced by the censors to remove the scene, though Black Cinema Connection has been unable to confirm this information.

This film is considered lost.

Source(s): TCM, Wikipedia; Quote: Zazzle Oscar Micheaux vintage movie ad card; Photo: Wikimedia Commons.



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.

History of Black Cinema

Films featuring Black performers and images have evolved from those which reflected the notions of Whites to those which fully explore African-American issues and themes.  Early movies created during the beginning of the 20th century typically portrayed African-Americans in insulting stereotypes or utilized Whites in blackface instead of Black actors.  Blackface involved White actors covering their faces with black make-up and drawing on exaggerated lips to complete the parody.  This technique originated in the minstrel shows of the mid-19th century in which African-Americans were portrayed as stupid, lazy, clownish, superstitious, and frivolous.   These shows degraded the African-American community and made fun of Blacks by making them look foolish, utilizing stereotypical characters such as Coons, Mammies, Sambos, and Uncle Toms.  Such stereotyping and disparaging representations were used to disassociate Blacks and Whites, an established practice in America since the days of slavery.

With the invention of moving pictures, the minstrel tradition of demeaning Blacks for the entertainment of White audiences carried over into the new medium.  Black characters were rarely presented in film and when they were they were typically portrayed as the same stereotypical caricatures, never as serious or fully developed individuals.

Birth of a Nation Poster

One such movie, was The Birth of A Nation, a 1915 silent film directed by David Wark “D. W.” Griffith.  By 1915 Griffith was an established director who developed a repertoire of techniques including crosscutting, intercutting, expressive lighting, camera movement, and the close-up.  He grew up hearing stories of the Old South’s power and grandeur and in 1914 began working on his film masterpiece which would later be praised for its technical innovations, epic narrative and imagination, drawing huge crowds around the country and becoming Hollywood’s first true blockbuster.  An adaptation of Thomas Dixon’s novel “The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan” BOAN chronicled the rising racial, economic, political and geographic tensions leading up to and through the Civil War, emancipation, Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and the tumultuous southern reconstruction period in American History.

In spite of its innovation as a movie megahit, it was condemned as racist by leaders in the African-American community as well as by White liberals.  This film took racial stereotypes to a whole new level.  It showed blacks as inferior, maniacal, unintelligent, and brutal, raping and disrespecting good White folk, and generally running amok.  The film’s Confederate hero’s response to these insufferable injustices by the newly freed and unruly slaves, was to start the Ku Klux Klan, a righteous organization, portrayed as saviors of the South, who ride in at the end and save the Whites from the savage Negroes. 

White actor in Blackface.
After the war, “illiterate” Black gain control of the legislature
Flora runs in fright and jumps off a cliff to her death rather than be raped by a Black man.
After Flora’s death the Black soldier, Gus, is captured and hanged by the Klan
Upon its release, BOAN sparked national protest, drawing the ire of the newly formed NAACP and was the catalyst for riots in several major cities in which it was screened.  Even at this early stage in motion picture history, African-Americans saw the potential of film as a set of images and messages that could influence the opinions and behavior of a large number of people as well as the way in which the experiences of African-Americans could be distorted and exaggerated.  Yet, despite its racist, exploitative message, its historical inaccuracy, and its’ rejection by entire regions of the country, the 190-minute silent epic was the most profitable film in history for a number of years and well into the “talkie” film era.   BOAN gave birth to the lurid and degrading stereotypes that were to endure in African-American movie images for years to come.In an effort to counterbalance such negative portrayals, African-American entrepreneurs ventured into filmmaking.  In addition, a handful of independent “Colored” film companies were emerging.  These companies were owned by Whites but catered to film audiences in the nearly 400 Black movie theaters, most of which were in the South.  But a major problem in producing these films was financing.
One Black producer who was able to get his films made with a minimum of capital, was one-time homesteader, novelist, salesman and overall wheeler-dealer, Oscar Micheaux who, in 1918 formed The Micheaux Film and Book Company.  Another early Black cinema pioneer was Noble Johnson, the Hollywood character actor who, along with his brother George, established The Lincoln Motion Picture Company in Los Angeles in 1916.  But actor, writer and vaudeville agent, William Foster (also known as July Jones), is widely considered the first African-American to establish a Black film production company to feature films with all African-American casts, when in 1910 he founded The Foster Photoplay Company out of Chicago.  The companies established by these innovators were at the forefront in producing “Race Films,” movies that featured all-Black or predominantly Black casts and were marketed to African-American audiences.

Lincoln Picture’s, The Realization of a Negro’s Ambition (1916) and Micheaux’s, The Homesteader (1919), were among the first feature films to present themes in concert with the effort by African-Americans to combat the negative portrayal of their community.  Ideologies of racial advancement were based on the predication that Blacks were human beings as well as Americans deserving of equality and social justice.  These beliefs emphasized education and morality and were actualized in films through plots that emphasized temperance, religion and social advancement through education.

During the 1920s through the mid-1930’s there was an abundance of Black-owned film studios operating throughout the U.S.  Although the films were produced on limited budgets, the popularity of race movies gave birth to a counter cinema with its own stars, a highly organized and tightly run distribution system, and a multitude of exhibition venues including Black owned movie houses like the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., and the Madame C. J. Walker Theater in Indianapolis.  In addition to such theaters, the films were also shown at Black churches and schools, segregated theaters or at midnight and matinee showings in White theaters.

Unfortunately many of the Black independent film companies did not survive the Great Depression nor the invention of expensive sound technology.  In the 1930’s and 40’s few of the films made for Black audiences were made by Blacks.  Many of the production companies were now owned by White businessmen with White technicians behind the cameras.  These companies included the Norman Film Manufacturing Company, Ebony Pictures and The Colored Players Film Corporation.  One of the few exceptions was Micheaux, who maintained control of his production company, long after many Black owned companies went bankrupt and disappeared.  In spite of this, there were still a multitude of Black producers, directors, screenwriters, actors and actresses who worked on films which were not meant for mainstream movie audiences and as such they had influence on how African-American life was portrayed.  During the early period of Race films, the movies focused on themes relative to the Black community such as passing, lynching, religion and criminal behavior.  Eventually, the focus of the films changed and plots combined Race and Hollywood styles in which gangster movies, westerns, horrors and musicals portrayed Black concerns.

Race films, both those produced by Black companies as well as White, continued to remain popular with Black audiences through the mid-50s, as they provided stories which reflected experiences that movie goers could relate to and portrayed characters that contradicted White America’s notions of the place of African-Americans in society. It is estimated that more than 500 race movies were produced and distributed between 1910 and 1948, although fewer than 100 of these exist today due to the use of highly flammable and delicate nitrate film stock and the failure to utilize proper storage methods which led to the loss of many early films.

The significance of these productions to contemporary audiences lies in the fact that they provide a glimpse of how Blacks saw themselves and their world during the era in which they were made.  They should not be condemned for their lack of artistic value, due to limited budgets and production quality, but appreciated for their reflections of Black culture by highlighting African-American vernacular, dance, music, fashion, and glamour.  It can be said that without the early Black independent film movement, there would be few Black themed films today.

See Race Filmography for a complete listing.