TODAY in Black Film History ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
THE GREEN PASTURES
Released July 16, 1936 New York City, NY ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Although the poor box office showing of the first black-cast musicals Hearts in Dixie and Hallelujah in 1929 made the studios reluctant to take a chance on another black Hollywood spectacle, in 1936 Warner Brothers released The Green Pastures, a feature length all-black musical based on Marc Connelly’s long running Pulitzer Prize winning play.
The story of Mr. Deshee, a kindly old black Sunday school teacher in Louisiana who makes the Bible stories come alive by transforming the biblical characters into contemporary men and women. The film included some of the finest actors of the day: Rex Ingram as De Lawd, a patriarchal Jehovah who dresses like a Southern gentleman; Eddie Anderson as Noah, a good man who finds it hard to resist a taste of tobacco and alcohol; Oscar Polk as Archangel Gabriel; and Ernest Whitman as the sadistic Pharaoh.
By playing multiple roles, the actors created a clever continuity within the stories: Ingram, for example, appeared not only as De Lawd but also as Adam and Hezdrel, while the children in Mr. Deshee’s class doubled as heavenly cherubs serenaded by the spirituals of the famous Hall Johnson Choir.
Though the white press unanimously hailed the film as a heartbreaking masterpiece of American folk drama, black audiences rejected its demeaning and stereotypical racial portrayals. Nonetheless, The Green Pastures was enormously popular; on opening day at Radio City Music Hall in New York, tickets sold at the rate of 6,000 per hour. Held over for an entire year’s run at some theaters, The Green Pastures went on to become one of the most successful black-cast films of all time. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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Back in May, I visited a beautiful plantation in South Carolina, just outside of Charleston. ‘Twas very interesting and educational... always good to learn more about America’s history... our TRUE history. This photo is of a lovely piece in one of the old slave “cottages” (a very sugar coated name considering the terrible living conditions. I would have referred to them as shacks.) A mosaic of sorts of some of the remnants of a slave’s domestic life. I found it to be quite captivating. So much beauty can be found in the ordinary. ✨ I was truly moved by the displays on slavery and black history. The emotional and physical torment that these innocent people had to endure, and still do endure to this day, even if on a smaller scale, will always weigh so heavy on my heart.