How did Herb Jeffries become a black cowboy film star when he wasn't even black? Sarfraz Manzoor travels to Kansas in search of the answer. Mike Wooldridge is in Pakistan - an election date's been announced but will the new team of rulers tackle what some call an alarming rise in religious intolerance? Western Sahara is not much reported upon: Celeste Hicks goes there and tells a tale of secret police, comic book spies and wobbling octopus. Anthony Denselow travels to Uttar Pradesh in India to find out why so many widows make their way to the city of Vrindavan. And the Chinese have developed a thirst for fine wine. Jim Carey has been discovering that Australia's winemakers want a slice of this potentially huge new market. From Our Own Correspondent is produced by Tony Grant
The race movie or race film was a film genre which existed in the United States between about 1915 and 1950. It consisted of films produced for an all-black audience, featuring black casts.
In all, approximately five hundred race films were produced. Of these, fewer than one hundred remain. Because race films were produced outside the Hollywoodstudio system, they have been largely forgotten by mainstream film historians. In their day, race films were very popular among African American theatergoers. Their influence continues to be felt in cinema and television marketed to African Americans.
As many as 500 race films were produced in the United States between 1915 and 1952. As happened later with the early black sitcoms on television, race movies were most often financed by white-owned companies, such as Alfred N. Sack, and scripted by white writers. Many race films were produced by white-owned film companies outside the Hollywood-centered American film industry, making them some of the first financially successful independent films. One of the earliest surviving examples of a black cast film aimed at a black audience is A Fool and His Money (1912), directed by French emigree Alice Guy for the Solax Film Company. The Ebony Film Company of Chicago, created specifically to produce black-cast films, was also headed by a white production team.
In the South, to comply with laws on racial segregation, race movies were screened at designated black theaters. Though northern cities were not formally segregated, race films were generally shown in theaters in black neighborhoods. Many large northern theaters incorporated special balconies reserved for blacks.
While it was rare for race films to be shown to white audiences, white theaters often reserved special time-slots for black moviegoers. This resulted in race films often being screened as matinées and midnight shows. During the height of their popularity, race films were shown in as many as 1,100 theaters around the country.
Produced primarily in northern cities, the target audience consisted primarily of poor southern blacks and southerners who had migrated northward. Many race films, particularly those produced by white studios, expressed middle-class urban values, especially education and industriousness. Common themes included the "improvement" of the black race, the supposed tension between educated and uneducated blacks, and the tragic consequences in store for blacks who resisted liberal capitalist values. The most famous race movie, The Scar of Shame, incorporated all of these themes.
Race films typically avoided explicit depictions of poverty, ghettos, social decay, and crime. When such elements appeared, they often did so in the background or as plot devices. Race films rarely treated the subjects of social injustice and race relations, although blacks were legally disenfranchised in the South and suffered discrimination in the North.
Race films avoided many of the popular black stock characters found in contemporary mainstream films, or else relegated these stereotypes to supporting roles and villains. Micheaux depicted his protagonists as educated, prosperous, and genteel. Micheaux hoped to give his audience something to help them "further the race".
Many black singers and bands appeared in lead or supporting roles in race films; Louis Jordan, for example, made three films.
Race movies are of great interest to students of African American cinema. They have historical significance, but also showcased the talents of actors who were relegated to stereotypical supporting roles in mainstream studio films. Hattie McDaniel and Clarence Muse are two of the most striking examples of talented performers who generally were given minor roles in mainstream movies. A few stars from race films were able to cross over to relative stardom in mainstream works – for example, Paul Robeson and Evelyn Preer. Hollywood studios often used race movies as a recruiting source of black talent.
Otis grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Berkeley, California, where his father owned and operated a neighborhood grocery store. Otis became well known for his choice to live his professional and personal life as a member of the African-American community. He has written, "As a kid I decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black."
In the late 1940s, he discovered Big Jay McNeely, who then performed on his "Barrelhouse Stomp". He began recording for the Newark, New Jersey-based Savoy label in 1949, and began releasing a stream of records that made the R&B chart, including "Double Crossing Blues", "Mistrustin' Blues" and "Cupid Boogie", which all featured either Little Esther or Mel Walker, or both, and all reached no. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart. He also began featuring himself on vibraphone on many of his recordings. Otis produced and played the vibraphone on Johnny Ace's "Pledging My Love", which was no. 1 on the Billboard R and B chart for 10 weeks in 1955.
Here Comes Shuggie Otis in a return from shadows
Date: March 23, 2013
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Last month, the comeback of 1970s folk singer Rodriguez reached its critical mass when the movie of his disappearance and triumphant return, Searching for Sugar Man, won Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards.
Rodriguez's return has shown how much we all love second chances, which augurs well for lost '70s singer/guitarist Shuggie Otis, whose disappearance into obscurity has parallels with Rodriguez.
''I've heard a lot about this man recently,'' 59-year-old Otis says of Rodriguez. ''I've heard of his name so much in the past three months because journalists keep asking me about him and I can't wait to hear him. I do see a comparison, from what I know, but his [story] seems even a little bit more dramatic. The fact that he seemed more content [in obscurity] is probably where the differences between us come in.''
The son of bandleader and rhythm and blues pioneer, Johnny Otis, Shuggie was signed to Epic Records at the age of 16 and released his debut album, Here Comes Shuggie Otis, in 1969. His father produced this and also 1971's Freedom Flight, but a determined Shuggie was allowed to make his third LP, 1974's Inspiration Information, on his own.
He composed and produced and played all the instruments himself (bar horns and strings, which he arranged) and Inspiration Information is a masterpiece of trippy soul, sun-dappled funk, experimental R&B and LA-inspired psychedelic rock, augmented with Otis' sweet vocals. The album, though, was almost totally ignored on release and Shuggie was dropped by his label. At 21, he was washed up.
''I don't know if it failed,'' Otis says of Inspiration Information. ''I just don't think it was commercial enough and, in fact, I didn't really want it to be.''
In the years since, the album (like Rodriguez's Cold Fact) has become revered by record collectors, crate-digging DJs, hip-hop heads and funk archivists as a forgotten classic, while its early use of drum machines and synths is considered way ahead of its time.
Otis, meanwhile, fell off the radar, playing sporadically with his father's band, but not landing another record deal. Quincy Jones had wanted to produce the follow-up to Inspiration Information and Otis was offered Mick Taylor's vacant guitar slot in the Rolling Stones, both of which he turned down.
Otis says now he battled with drugs, alcohol and depression for more than 30 years, as well as the loss of two wives - one to divorce and a second, Lillian Wilson, to an auto-immune disease in 2001. He finally got clean three years ago.
''I'd rather not say what it [the drug problem] was,'' he says, ''but let's say I had a problem. I lost my wife in 2001 and I've never told anyone this publicly, but it set me way back. It was all about getting as wasted as I could, because it was too much of a surprise and shock. But I have no cravings now whatsoever for anything and that is the miracle. I'm doing fine and I don't have to worry about that drink having to be there all of the time, because it was taking me out slowly.''
Next month, Sony will reissue Inspiration Information, with an accompanying full-length disc of unreleased music - Wings of Love - that Otis recorded between 1975 and 2000.
''There was a time when I was saying, 'Forget the whole thing, I don't even want to be in the music business any more','' Otis says. ''But now I just want to record and play music publicly for the rest of my life, if they'll have me.''
Shuggie Otis, Robert Cray and Taj Mahal play at Hamer Hall on Sunday, March 24.
Nellallitea 'Nella' Larsen (born Nellie Walker (April 13, 1891 – March 30, 1964), was an American novelist of the Harlem Renaissance. First working as a nurse and a librarian, she published two novels and a few short stories. Though her literary output was scant, she earned recognition by her contemporaries. A revival of interest in her writing has occurred since the late twentieth century, when issues of racial and sexual identity and identification have been studied.
She was born Nellie Walker in Chicago, Illinois, on April 13, 1891, the daughter of Marie Hanson, a Danish immigrant, and Peter Walker, a West Indian man of predominantly African descent from Saint Croix, who soon disappeared from her life. Her mother was a domestic worker.
After her mother married Peter Larsen, a Scandinavian, they had another daughter together. Nellie took her stepfather's surname, sometimes using versions spelled as Nellye Larson, Nellie Larsen and, finally, settling on Nella Larsen. The mixed family encountered discrimination among the ethnic white immigrants in Chicago of the time. The author and critic Darryl Pinckney writes, as importantly,
"as a member of a white immigrant family, she [Larsen] had no entrée into the world of the blues or of the black church. If she could never be white like her mother and sister, neither could she ever be black in quite the same way that Langston Hughes and his characters were black. Hers was a netherworld, unrecognizable historically and too painful to dredge up."
As a child, Larsen lived a few years with her mother's relations in Denmark. Her mother believed in education and supported Larsen in attending Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee, a historically black university. She was there in 1907-08, and the biographer George Hutchinson speculates that she was expelled for some violation of Fisk's strict dress or conduct codes. Larsen returned to Denmark for four years and then came back to the U.S., but struggled to find a place of her own.
In 1914, Larsen enrolled in the nursing school at New York City's Lincoln Hospital and Nursing Home. Founded in the nineteenth century in Manhattan as a nursing home to serve blacks, the hospital elements had grown in importance. The total operation had been relocated to a newly constructed campus in the South Bronx. At the time, the nursing home patients were primarily black; the hospital patients were primarily white; the doctors were male and white; and the nurses and nursing students were female and black. As Pinckney writes, "No matter what situation Larsen found herself in, racial irony of one kind or another invariably wrapped itself around her."
Helga Crane is a fictional character loosely based on Larsen's experiences in her early life. Crane is the lovely and refined mixed-race daughter of a Danish mother and a West Indian black father. He abandoned her mother and Helga soon after the girl was born. Unable to feel comfortable with her European-American relatives, Crane lives in various places in the United States and visits Denmark, searching for people among whom she feels at home.
In her travels she encounters many of the communities which Larsen knew. For example, Crane teaches at Naxos, a Southern Negro boarding school (based on Tuskegee University), where she becomes dissatisfied with its philosophy. She criticizes a sermon by a white preacher, who advocates the segregation of blacks into separate schools, and says their striving for social equality would lead blacks to become avaricious. Crane quits teaching and moves to Chicago. Her white maternal uncle, now married to a bigoted woman, shuns her. Crane moves to Harlem, New York, where she finds a refined but often hypocritical black middle class obsessed with the "race problem."
Taking her uncle's legacy, Crane visits her maternal aunt in Copenhagen, where she is treated as a highly desirable racial exotic. Missing black people, she returns to New York City. Experiencing a near mental breakdown, Crane happens onto a store-front revival and a charismatic religious experience. After marrying the preacher who converts her, she moves with him to the rural Deep South. There she is disillusioned by the people's adherence to religion. In each of her moves, Crane fails to find fulfillment. She is looking for more than how to integrate her mixed ancestry. She expresses complex feelings about what she and her friends consider genetic differences between races.
The novel develops Crane's search for a marriage partner. As it opens, she has become engaged to marry a prominent Southern Negro man, whom she does not really love, but with whom she can gain social benefits. In Denmark she turns down the proposal of a famous white Danish artist for similar reasons. By the final chapters, Crane has married a typical black Southern preacher. The novel's close is deeply pessimistic. Crane had hoped to find sexual fulfillment in marriage and some success in helping the poor southern blacks she lives among, but instead she has frequent pregnancies and suffering. Disillusioned with religion, her husband, and her life, Crane fantasizes about leaving her husband, but never does.
Clare and Irene were two childhood friends, both of African and European ancestry. They lost touch when Clare's father died, and she moved in with two paternal white aunts. She then started to 'pass' as a white woman and marry a white man, who is a racist.
Irene lives in Harlem, where she identifies as black and commits herself to racial uplift. She marries a black doctor. The novel begins as the two childhood friends meet later in life. Events unfold as each woman is fascinated and seduced by the other's lifestyle. The novel traces a tragic path, as Irene becomes suspicious that her husband is having an affair with Clare. (The reader is never told whether her fears are justified or not, and numerous cues point in both directions). Clare's mixed race is revealed to her husband John Bellew. The novel ends with Clare's sudden death by "falling" out of a window. The end of the novel is famous for its ambiguity, which leaves open the possibility that Irene has pushed Clare out the window, or that Clare has committed suicide.
Many see this novel as an example of the plot of the tragic mulatto, a common figure in early African-American literature after the American Civil War. Others suggest that the novel complicates the plot by introducing the dual figures of Irene and Clare, who in many ways mirror each other. The novel also suggests erotic undertones in the two women's relationship. Some read the novel as one of repression. Others argue that through its attention to the way "passing" unhinges ideas of race, class, and gender, the novel opens spaces for the creation of new, self-generated identities.
Passing has received renewed attention because of its close examination of racial and sexual ambiguities and liminal spaces. It has achieved canonical status in many American universities.
WHITES PASSING TOO
How And Why The Hollywood Star Machine Made 'Gods Like Us'
As a film critic for The Boston Globe, Ty Burr has met a lot of movie stars and is often asked what they're really like. What he has realized is that often, the actor's image has little to do with their actual personality, but that's not what interests him; Burr is more curious about why we ask that question to begin with. Burr wants to know "why we respond to these people who we think are larger than life [and] that are — especially in the classic days — manufactured and all their irregularities sanded off and presented to us as some kind of perfection."
In his new book, Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Fame, Burr looks at this relationship between movie stars and the public that loves them. The book is a history of the star-making machine, how the place of movie stars in our culture has evolved, and how the technology that creates celebrity has gradually changed the kinds of stars audiences want.
When movies were first starting out, for example, the shared, nationwide familiarity with an actor was a novel idea.
"Everybody, theoretically, on the planet was seeing these actors do their things at the same time," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "so that it wasn't just going to a movie theater and sharing your response with everybody in the theater. It was coming out of that theater and sharing your response with everybody in the culture, so that everybody started talking about Clark Gable at the same time — not just in New York, but everybody in the country."
Burr also makes the point that, in the early days of the star-making machine, the studios "owned these people, and they remolded them as they saw fit." The actors had to be young, beautiful and — importantly — single, and the studios would take sometimes extreme steps to see that these expectations were met.
"They would hire and contract young actors," he says, "change their names, give them lessons in deportment, fix their noses — if necessary, occasionally pay them to divorce their spouses."
On how studios, actors and audiences alike needed to adjust to the idea of screen acting
Ty Burr is the film critic for The Boston Globe.
"In the early days, people really didn't understand what actors did in movies. There needed to be a paradigm shift. When you read early movie reviews or articles about what was going on in these early silent films, the verbs they use ... [to] talk about acting ... [are] 'shamming,' 'posing,' 'presenting.' There needed to be sort of almost a brain shift here to understand that what these people were doing was performative and, in fact, a different kind of acting. Because the camera gives every viewer the best seat in the house, it brought you closer to the actors and in a more intimate way, and the better actors understood that and dialed down their technique. So the best actors almost had to think, and it would be magnified on their face and magnified by the camera. So the studios and the men who ran them didn't promote the stars — didn't think they had to — but the audience started getting obsessed with these people because they were closer to them, and the people seemed more life-sized and more real than those faraway stage actors."
On Mickey Rooney, whose stardom Burr finds particularly interesting
“ He is almost a fractal history of American movie stardom in one guy, and he is still here.
"He's been through so many changes in his career and he's never gone away, and he's been up, he's been down, he's been forgotten, he's been lauded. ... Mickey Rooney, he's like the secret mascot of my book. He was making movies by the time he was 3. He had his own film series, silent film series when he was a little kid — the Mickey McGuire movies. By the mid-1930s he was the most popular actor in America. He was No. 1 on the box office list for about three or four years in the Andy Hardy movies, primarily, and the musicals he made with Judy Garland, and after World War II he ... was totally washed up. And then he keeps coming back and going away, and he wins a Tony and he wins an Emmy and he has a religious conversion. He is almost a fractal history of American movie stardom in one guy, and he is still here. He is in his mid-90s and he's still making movies, and I don't think he will ever die."
On how our understanding and treatment of movie stars has changed with the advent of the Internet
"Movie stars, as we understand in the classic [sense], movie stars are, in a way, on the wane. I don't think the main stream ... American film industry sells us stars the way they used to, and they don't sell movies with stars. They sell movies based on franchises: popular book franchises like Twilight or Harry Potter, on special effects, on comic book heroes. Those are what audiences pay to see. They don't necessarily go to see [a movie] because Tom Cruise ... or Ryan Gosling is in it. ... I think the whole culture has changed in the sense that we almost don't need classic movie stars in the way we used to because the Internet allows us to manufacture our own personas in many, many different ways. ... So what happens to the classic movie star in this scenario? They become lesser in value. They become mocked. The famous Tom Cruise-Oprah couch scene is still playing at a YouTube channel near you. I mean, it will be there forever. Twenty years ago it would have been fodder for a week of late-night jokes and forgotten, but now it's proof that we have a certain power over these people that used to have power over us." http://www.npr.org/2013/03/25/175047371/how-and-why-the-hollywood-s...