An Early ‘Race Movie’

Two Knights of Vaudeville
R: Unknown. D: Jimmy Marshall, Florence McClain, Frank Montgomery, Bert Murphy. P: Historical Feature Film Company. USA 1915

Film was made by the Historical Feature Film Company [US] which was a white-run company; but, distributed by the Ebony Film Company [US] to make it appear that it was released by a black-controlled company. (IMDb)

“In most American silent films, minorities were generally played by white actors in make-up. When actual minorities were cast, roles were generally limited. Latinos in silent films usually played greasers and bandits; Asian-Americans played waiters, tongs and laundrymen; and blacks usually played bellboys, stable hands, maids or simple buffoons. Early film depictions of black characters were highly offensive, including those in the films Nigger in the Woodpile, Rastus, Sambo and The Wooing and Wedding of a Coon. Not surprisingly, both Asian-Americans and blacks responded by launching their own alternative cinemas. But whilst Asian-American Silent Cinema quickly faltered, black cinema (blessed with a much larger audience) flourished and soon many so-called ‘race movies’ were being made by both black and white filmmakers for black filmgoers.
The first film company devoted to the production of race movies was the Chicago-based Ebony Film Company, which began operation in 1915. The first black-owned film company was The Lincoln Motion Picture Company, founded by the famous actor Noble Johnson in 1916. However, the biggest name in race movies was and remains Oscar Micheaux, an Illinois-born director who started The Micheaux Book & Film Company in 1919 and went on to direct at least forty films with predominantly black casts for black audiences. Also in 1919, seeing how lucrative the growing race movie market was, Jacksonville, Florida’s Norman Film Manufacturing Company switched tracks and began making race films, starting with an all black remake of one of their earlier films.”
Eric Brightwell: Black Cinema Part I – Race Movies – The Silent Era
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