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 Hollywood studio 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.
Financing and production
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.
Some black-owned studios existed, including Lincoln Motion Picture Company (1916–1921), and most notably Oscar Micheaux's Chicago-based Micheaux Film Corporation, which operated from 1918–1940. On his posters, Micheaux advertised that his films were scripted and produced exclusively by blacks. Astor Pictures released several race films and produced Beware with Louis Jordan.
The race films vanished after United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., or the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948, which forced the division of motion picture exhibitors from the motion picture production companies. African-American participation in World War II contributed to the casting of black actors in lead roles in several Hollywood major productions, such as Pinky with Ethel Waters; Home of the Brave with James Edwards; and Intruder in the Dust, all in 1949; and No Way Out (1950), which was the debut of the notable actor Sidney Poitier.
Notable race movies
- The Homesteader (1919), Micheaux's first film
- Within Our Gates (1919), inspired by Leo Frank trial
- Body and Soul (1924), Paul Robeson's cinematic debut
- The Scar of Shame (1927)
- The Exile (1931)
- Harlem on the Prairie (1937), Herb Jeffries in the first singing cowboy Western race movie
- Lying Lips (1939)
- The Blood of Jesus (1941), the first race film added to the U.S. National Film Registry, in 1991
Prominently featured in the Race Films were some of these Forgotten Actresses.
- Diawara, Manthia. Black American Cinema. Routledge, 1993. ISBN 0-415-90397-1
- Gaines, Jane M. Fire and Desire: Mixed-Race Movies in the Silent Era. University Of Chicago Press, 2001. ISBN 0-226-27875-1
- McMahan, Alison; Alice Guy Blache: Lost Visionary of the Cinema; New York: Continuum, 2002; 148
- McMahan; 147
- Leab, Daniel. From Sambo to Superspade: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975; 45
- The average year of birth for the actresses and actors is between 1903 and 1917.
- The documentary, "Midnight Ramble", about independently produced black films.
- Hollywood Eras and Errors
- Most Beautiful Classic Black Actresses
- Black Cinema Part I – Race Movies - The Silent Era
- Black Cinema Part II - Race Movies - The Hollywood Studio Era
- Music on Film
- Top 100 Alphabetical Listing - Black Classic Movies on DVD