Though we like to think so, we’re not perfect at S & A, and one thing we have been remiss in discussing in any detail, are the all important black films made from the silent era to the late 1940’s.
Better known as ‘race’ movies, these totally independently made black films, made exclusively for black audiences (by the likes of the Lincoln Picture Company based in Omaha and of course Oscar Micheaux who made some 37 films mainly in Chicago and New York – just to name two) were the earliest attempts to bring to people of color other images, diffferent than the stereotyped and usually degrading images of black people seen in Hollywood films.
Without these films, there would be literally be no black films today, as they paved the way and broke through so many barriers to show what was possible.
I should make it my 2013 New Year’s resolution to occasionally do features about these race films and let me start off with the 1926 movie The Flying Ace.
Made by The Norman Film Company, which was founded by two white producing and directing brothers, Richard and Kenneth Norman, and based in Jacksonville Florida, the company made some six feature films with all-black casts, though, unfortunately, The Flying Ace is the only one to survive, and was restored by the Library of Congress in 2010.
The film deals with a crime fighting World War I ace fighter pilot Captain Billy Stokes (played by Lawrence Criner), who investigates the disappearance of a $25,000 railroad company payroll and the paymaster. Assisting Strokes is his flying pilot sweetheart Ruth Sawtelle (played by Kathryn Boyd).
The part of Sawtelle was very much inspired by the real life aviation pioneer Bessie Coleman. Google her if you’ve never heard of her (and shame on you if you haven’t). She had a truly amazing story, and ironically she was killed in a plane crash in Jacksonville in 1926, though whether her death was the inspiration for the film or if if it occurred after the film was made, is unclear.
And if you’re thinking her story would make a great movie, someone already beat you to the punch. Euzhan Palcy tried several years ago to tried to get a Bessie Coleman film project off the ground, but didn’t get far with it.
However, getting back to The Flying Ace and a chance to see the film, at least for those in the Chicago area.
There will be a rare screening of the film (accompanied with live organ music) at the Portage Theater in Chicago, on Weds Jan. 30, as part of the winter/early spring film schedule of the Northwest Chicago Film Society, which specializes in weekly screenings of older and rarely seen films that deserve to be better known.
You can find out more about the the screening of the The Flying Ace, as well as the Film Society HERE; and below is a trailer that was made for the film: