“Jungle Fever” by the Mills Brothers, plus Female Blackface, from the Civil War Film “Operator 13″

This video is from the 1934 Civil War film Operator 13, which features the Mills Brothers. As noted in Wikipedia, the Mills, from southwestern Ohio, were “an American jazz and pop vocal quartet of the 20th century who made more than 2,000 recordings that combined sold more than 50 million copies, and garnered at least three dozen gold records.” The Mills had phenomenal success in America and Europe, but sadly, are not well known today.

Set amidst a sea of black faces, the Mills perform the song Jungle Fever as part of a Civil War era minstrel show. The song is an ode to the African homeland, albeit with lyrics that some might say reinforce stereotypes of Africans as animalistic and primitive:

Jungle Fever lyrics:

Ever see the Congo when it’s steaming in the night?
Ever hear the jungle with the animals in fright?
Put me in the Congo in the jungle and I’m right.

(chorus)I got that fever that jungle fever
You know the reason that I long to go

Dusky maiden, dark haired siren
Congo sweetheart
I’m comin’ back to you

Wild eyed woman, native dreamgirl
Jungle fever is in my blood for you

Every hear a kettle drum
Pounding out of beat
Ever fight the silence
And the madness and the heat
That’s the thrill I’m cravin’
And the music is so sweet

Oh, the congos callin’
And I’m longin’ to go

This clip is from the curious film Operator 13, starring Marion Davies and Gary Cooper. The movie is about a white woman (Davies) who, in a portion of the film, uses blackface to disguise herself as a slave in order to spy on the Confederates! I’m not making this up.


Marion Davies, at left, made-up as a slave in the movie “Operator 13″
Source: DoctorMacro.com

As noted in the Wikipedia description of the film,

Operator 13 is a 1934 American romance film directed by Richard Boleslawski and starring Marion Davies, Gary Cooper, and Jean Parker. Based on stories written by Robert W. Chambers, the film is about a Union spy who impersonates a black maid in the early days of the Civil War, but complications arise when she falls in love with a Confederate officer.The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.

PLOT: Shortly after the Battle of Bull Run, the Union forces are in retreat. In a US Military Hospital, the Pauline Cushman Players are performing for wounded soldiers. Pauline the spy who works for Allen Pinkerton persuades Gail (Marion Davies) to become a spy for the Union cause, under the code name Operator 13. (Allen Pinkerton headed the Union Intelligence Service and was in charge of spying and other activities for the United States during the Civil War.)

Gail, in blackface as a disguise, accompanies Pauline as her African American maid (so-called “octaroon” the out-of-date term for a person of 1/8th African ancestry) and while washing General Stuart’s clothes, hears he will attend a ball that night. At the ball, Captain Gailliard suspects that Pauline is a spy and finds evidence in her room. Pauline, trying to flee is arrested and is to be a witness against Gail who is later sentenced to death. Both women manage to escape to the Union lines.

After the women escape, the Gail character eschew her blackface role and gets romantic with Gary Cooper, who plays a Confederate officer.


Marion Davies as a blond with Gary Cooper, from the movie “Operator 13.” It seems like – dare I say it? – blonds do have more fun.
Source: DoctorMacro.com
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Trailer for Upcoming Miniseries on 18th Century Slavery, “Book of Negroes”

This is the trailer for the upcoming mini-series “Book of Negroes” that will air in the United States on BET in February 2015. The miniseries is based on the book of the same name by Canadian author Lawrence Hill.

From YouTube (Jun 24, 2014):

Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire), Academy Award and Primetime Emmy Award winner Lou Gossett Jr. (Boardwalk Empire) and lead actress Aunjanue Ellis (The Help) are scheduled to attend the MIPCOM 2014 World Premiere Screening of the epic mini-series adaptation of The Book of Negroes, produced by Conquering Lion Pictures, Out of Africa Entertainment, Entertainment One Television (eOne) and Idlewild Films. Based on the internationally acclaimed novel by Lawrence Hill, which has sold a million copies worldwide, The Book of Negroes is a universal story of loss, courage and triumph that depicts the extraordinary life journey of Aminata Diallo — an indomitable African woman who survives in a world in which everything seems to be against her.

This looks to be an interesting film, for at least a couple of reasons. First, the lead character is an African woman (she’s born in Africa and eventually returns there), and we don’t see that much in American film. Second, it covers the 18th Century, including the Revolutionary War. Not too many people are aware that historians believe that more Africans supported Britain over the American colonists, in this war that created the United States.

I hope to say more about this film in future posts.

Here is a brief video with cast member Cuba Gooding Jr:

Commemorating the Battle of New Market Heights, Henrico County, Virginia

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Bennie White of Company A, 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; he was one of the many Reenactors/Living Historian at the Battle of New Market Heights Commemoration, September 27, 2014

This past weekend (September 27, 2014) I attended a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the US Civil War’s Battle of New Market Heights in Henrico County, Virginia. The county borders the city of Richmond, which was the Capital of the Confederacy. Many battles took place in the vicinity before the end of the war in early 1865.

The commemoration included a number of events, the highlight being a staging of the battle by a large group of Confederate and Union soldier reenactors.

New Market Heights is significant as the battle which earned the Medal of Honor for more than a dozen soldiers of the United States Colored Troops, or USCT. The USCT was the part of the Union army which contained just about all of its black enlistees. A ceremony was held at the end of the day to honor the medal winners, which included some of those soldier’s descendants. I found that to be a very poignant event,

I didn’t get a lot of great photos during my visit, but I am fond of the one which is above. The gentleman in the photo is Bennie White of Company A, 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which is based in Boston, Massachusetts. He mentioned that his involvement in reenacting dates back to the movie Glory – and many African American reenactors/living historians have told me the same. That movie has sparked more black interest in the war than any book, it seems to me. Which says more about the books that have been used to teach the history of the war, than the movie, I think.

I want to give a shout out to my friend Marquett Milton. Milton, who is young, energetic, and enthusiastic, was chosen to lead the charge that captured the New Market Heights earthen fort. After doing so, he was very pumped up, as you can imagine. We drove back to Washington, DC, when the day’s events were finished, and he fell asleep after just 10 minutes. Although some very late night banter from the previous day with his fellow camp mates may have contributed to his fatigue. (Many reenactors slept in a tent camp the previous night, and had a good time while at it.)

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Marquett Milton, United States Colored Troops Reenactor/Living Historian at the Battle of New Market Heights Commemoration, September 27, 2014

Finally, hats off to the folks of Henrico County for a great event.

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Reenactors/Living Historians at the Battle of New Market Heights Commemoration, September 27, 2014. These men took part in the ceremony that honored the members of the US Colored Troops who earned the Medal of Honor during the Battle.

This Friday evening (8/22/2014) on C-SPAN3: Slavery in Cinema

The C-SPAN network will air a trio of shows tonight that focus on the depiction of slavery in film:

The Civil War: Slavery & Cinema (8PM ET 8/21/2014; 11:42PM ET 8/21/2014)

A panel of history professors traces the evolution of slavery as depicted in film since the 1930s. Drawing examples from films like “Mandingo,” “Amistad” and “12 Years a Slave,” panelists discuss how filmmakers have framed the idea of slavery. They also describe changes in race relations and gender portrayals in films and how slave characters have shifted from the background into leading roles. (This can be viewed online; see here. The video might require the Flash web-browser plug-in for viewing.)

Hollywood and the Passage of the 13th Amendment (9:30PM ET 8/21/2014; 2AM ET 8/22/2014)

Professor Matthew Pinsker talks about Stephen Spielberg’s film, Lincoln, analyzing what is fact and what is Hollywood fiction. The video for this should be available online by Tuesday, August 28, 2014.

Civil War History and the Film Gone With the Wind (10:20PM ET 8/21/2014; 1:12AM ET 8/22/2014)

Jeffrey McClurken talked about the 1939 movie “Gone with the Wind,” looking at it as a source on southern culture during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and reflective of the Depression era in which it was created. (This can be viewed online; see here. The video might require the Flash web-browser plug-in for viewing.)

These three videos will be useful for folks interested in slavery and the way that slavery and emancipation have been portrayed on film, especially by Hollywood.

Also of interest is this article on Examiner.com: Black slave movies are proven winners in Hollywood, which identifies the most popular slave movies to date.

Jump Jim Crow

A short video showing images of Thomas Rice as “Jim Crow,” minstrel inspired toys, and clips from minstrel performances. Video features the “Jump Jim Crow” tune. Video created by Office of Diversity and Inclusion in conjunction with the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University ( http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/ )

The term “Jim Crow” is commonly used to refer to the period of racial segregation that lasted from the end of Reconstruction Era (around 1877) to the 1960s, when judicial decisions, congressional legislation, and executive actions officially ended the practice of separate and equal – a practice which almost always resulted in the separate and disciminatory treatment of African Americans.

But where did the term “Jim Crow” come from? It appears to come from the “blackface” minstrel performer Thomas “Daddy” Rice, who darkened his face with charcoal paste or burnt cork and danced a jig while singing the lyrics to his song, “Jump Jim Crow.”

The Jim Crow Museum website provides some details:

“Come listen all you galls and boys,
I’m going to sing a little song,
My name is Jim Crow.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb’ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow.”

These words are from the song, “Jim Crow,” as it appeared in sheet music written by Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice. Rice, a struggling “actor” (he did short solo skits between play scenes) at the Park Theater in New York, happened upon a black person singing the above song — some accounts say it was an old black slave who walked with difficulty, others say it was a ragged black stable boy. Whether modeled on an old man or a young boy we will never know, but we know that in 1828 Rice appeared on stage as “Jim Crow” — an exaggerated, highly stereotypical black character.

Rice, a white man, was one of the first performers to wear blackface makeup — his skin was darkened with burnt cork. His Jim Crow song-and-dance routine was an astounding success that took him from Louisville to Cincinnati to Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and finally to New York in 1832. He also performed to great acclaim in London and Dublin. By then “Jim Crow” was a stock character in minstrel shows, along with counterparts Jim Dandy and Zip Coon. Rice’s subsequent blackface characters were Sambos, Coons, and Dandies. White audiences were receptive to the portrayals of blacks as singing, dancing, grinning fools.

By 1838, the term “Jim Crow” was being used as a collective racial epithet for blacks, not as offensive as nigger, but similar to coon or darkie. The popularity of minstrel shows clearly aided the spread of Jim Crow as a racial slur. This use of the term only lasted half a century. By the end of the 19th century, the words Jim Crow were less likely to be used to derisively describe blacks; instead, the phrase Jim Crow was being used to describe laws and customs which oppressed blacks.

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Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” Hits the Big Screen

Back in March, I mentioned that filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, of Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and Inglourious Basterds fame, was working on a movie about antebellum slavery wrapped in the format of a spaghetti Western. That movie, Django Unchained, hits the movie screens today. The film stars Jamie Foxx in the title role, and the cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson.

This is one of the trailers for the film.


 
  Wiki describe the genesis and plot of the film:

In 2007, Quentin Tarantino, speaking with The Daily Telegraph, discussed an idea for a form of spaghetti western set in America’s Deep South which he called “a southern,” stating that he wanted “to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to.”

In December 2009, Tarantino revealed that he had another project but wouldn’t reveal any details except that it was less epic in scale and in a different genre entirely from Inglourious Basterds and that he could finish it in a five to six month period of intensive writing. On May 2, 2011, it was confirmed that project was the “Southern” that he had talked about in 2007, with the title Django Unchained, featuring the revenge of a slave on his former master.

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Phony or For Real: The Confederate Colonel or the Boss N*****?

OK, both, or one, or neither of the following movie trailers is fake. Can you guess which is phony and which is for real?

First, there’s the southern colonel who’s cooked up a recipe for revenge:


 
Then there’s the fugitive slave who’s gone out west for freedom, fame, and fortune:


 
The answers are below the jump. Continue reading