Rack Focus


Afro Promo: Black Cinema Trailers 1946–76
(Other Cinema)

This eye-opening disc from the always adventurous Other Cinema compiles trailers from 30 years’ worth of films made by or starring African Americans. Titles run the gamut from Hollywood prestige pictures like 1958’s The Defiant Ones and 1972’s Sounder (“broadens the definition of what a black movie can be”) to low-budget blaxploitation flicks (the hero of 1972’s Cool Breeze is after “$3 million of whitey’s ice”). The promo for Mandingo (1975) breathlessly promises “all the shocking innocence and depravity” of the old South, while The Last Safari (1967) offers National Geographic–style “tribal” nudity, but viewed in one sitting, the whole package is less a Cliffs Notes history of Hollywood racism than a chilling testament to the capacity of marketing to co-opt social change.

Way Down South

This bizarre 1939 musical is significant as one of the rare golden-age studio films scripted by African Americans—in this case, poet Langston Hughes and actor Clarence Muse (who also co-stars, spending much of his performance disguised as a white woman). The opening scenes suggest some uncredited rewrites—the depiction of slavery in antebellum Louisiana is downright cheerful, but a couple of the musical numbers are pleasantly unhinged, an effect enhanced by the overall lack of narrative coherence. Adding to the strangeness is the presence of child singing sensation Bobby Breen, who stars as an orphaned plantation owner’s son. Directed by future blacklistee Bernard Vorhaus.