I made the huge mistake of watching this documentary at the time that I watched it—at a point when my writing inspiration (a drama series screenplay) is at a "peak". Why was it a mistake? Because now I’m even MORE inspired! Inspired to write MORE scripts! I need a clone.
This won’t be a "review". Not in the format that I usually do reviews in, that is. Instead, I will list my "Praises","Some Wrongs…", and "Overall Thoughts".
|Screenshot of Title Card|
- This is probably a great documentary to show people who are just "getting into" race movies. It isn't an extensive documentary, but it highlights important people and monumental works. It was the bolded paragraphs of a long timeline being placed onto the screen, basically.
- It's narrated by Ossie Davis. Enough said.
- The documentary features audio of some unsung screen pioneers sharing their memories: George Johnson (actor, brother of Noble, and co-founder of the Lincoln Motion Picture Company), Lucia Lynn Moses, Fredi Washington, and Lorenzo Tucker. I was delighted to hear their voices—especially Lucia Lynn Moses'. For her only film was The Scar of Shame—a silent movie.
- We get a glimpse of lost and/or rare movies through still images and clips.
- I wanted to call this section "criticisms", but I realized that some aspects (or missing ones, rather) may have been out of creators' hands. I thought that the documentary should have covered more ground, but I also had to remember that it was released in 1975. Therefore, I will assume that at that time, a lot of race movies (notably Spencer Williams, Jr.’s movies) went unmentioned because they were believed to be lost. Oscar Micheaux's Body and Soul (1925) is referred to as his only surviving (or “known to survive”) Silent Era movie. Of course, movies like The Symbol of the Unconquered and Within Our Gates have since been recovered.
- The documentary was supposed to be about race movies, but a few Hollywood movies (So Red the Rose, Hearts in Dixie, and Pinky) received their own little segments. This wasn’t supposed to be about Hollywood…or at least I thought it wasn’t. Also, Josephine Baker received her own segment, and she didn’t star in a single race movie.
- I think that Josephine Baker and the Hollywood movies were acknowledged to serve as the contrast to race movies. “What was going on here—and what was going on over there…” but I felt that this took away from the race movies, its creators, and stars.
- Since the documentary did want to talk about Hollywood, there should have been mention of Hallelujah!. Although it wasn’t Hollywood’s first all-black talkie, it was released months after Hearts in Dixie—and along with Hearts in Dixie, it drove black performers to Hollywood. And speaking of Hallelujah!, I believe that Nina Mae McKinney was more deserving of her own segment than Josephine Baker, because she starred in Hallelujah! and eventually starred in race movies as well.
Other movies and other stars that should have been mentioned:
The Christie Film Company’s 1929 shorts (Melancholy Dame, Music Hath Harms, The Framing of the Shrew, Oft in the Silly Night, and The Lady Fare)
Overall (and personal) Thoughts
Again, I would recommend Black Shadows on a Silver Screen to people who are just getting into Black-American Cinema and/or race movies. People who’ve been exposed to a lot of race movies will notice the missing pieces and may be miffed by it like I was. However, as stated earlier, I did find inspiration in this documentary.
I was reminded of why I started this blog and why it is important that I continue on the path that I am on. I love my history—the good and the bad, but especially the good. I hate seeing the potential in great movies being lost in low finances, but I’m grateful for the opportunities to see and hear the stories of these pioneering filmmakers and performers--people who looked like me. People who just wanted their people to not only seem themselves, but see themselves as whole and multi-dimensional.
I was inspired and humbled watching this documentary, and it my dream to make the mentioned and unmentioned stars and makers proud. :)
Thank you, Kyle! :)