Oscar Michaeux and The Johnson brothers (Noble and George) weren’t the only filmmakers making race films during the silent film era.
There was also The Colored Players Film Corporation based in Philadelphia, which was created by a former black vaudevillian Sherman Dudley (who wanted to make “films free of black stereotypes”)and a white theater owner named David Starkman. The company made four films from 1926 to 1929.
However, only two of the four still exist today: Ten Nights in a Barroom, a black cast film version of a very popular anti-drinking play of the day, and The Scar of Shame.
It is Shame that has endured, not only because it’s one of the most technically accomplished race films of the silent film era, but also because of its still quite controversial premise of class, and how, in effect, those at the top and the rest at the bottom, should never interact, or else face dire consequences for themselves and the betterment of the black race.
It tells the story of Alvin, an up and coming young black striver from a well-to-do family (even with their own black butler) who is eventually driven to despair, disgrace and near ruin, due to a lower class woman, Louise, he saves from her abusive father and his gambler friend, and whom he later marries.
After a series of dramatic sequences of events, Louise comes to the realization that her “lower caste” status will prevent Alvin from his rightful station in life, and his destiny to further the black race.
Needless to say, not only is the film still provocative after some 86 years later, it is, in many ways, as relevant and controversial today as it was when it was first released.
The Black Cinema House in Chicago (located at 6901. Dorchester) will screen the film next Saturday, Sept 7th starting at 6PM, with yours truly introducing and discussing the film afterwards.
The screening is part of BCH’s Experimental Sound series; and since it is a silent film, there will be live music accompaniment with the film, performed by Peter Speer on the modular synthesizer, and other electronic instruments, and Alejandro Acierto on the contrabass clarinet.
Seating is limited so you must RSVP HERE.
Hope to see you there.