As I always say, you learn something new every day, even me. And I admit that I had never heard of this film until recently, and I’m really intrigued to see it.
I’m referring to the 1948 Mexican film, Angelitos Negros (Back Angels), written and directed by Joselito Rodriguez, which, in effect, was Mexican cinema’s addition to the, what I like to call, “mulatto angst” movies popular during the the late 1940’s into the 1950’s, such as Lost Boundaries, Raintree County, Pinky, Kings Go Forth, Night of the Quarter Moon and Raoul Walsh’s Band of Angels (maybe the best of the “angst” lot) with Clark Gable, Yvonne De Carlo and a very young Sidney Poitier.
Of course Angels’ closest comparison is Imitation of Life, which was made twice, first by director John Stahl in 1934, and again by director Douglas Sirk in 1959. There are similarities in plot between Imitation and Negros, but there’s an even stronger one, which I’ll get to in a minute.
In the case of Negros, the film deals with a poplular singer, Jose, who falls in love and marries white woman Ana Luisa, who also happens to be a racist, depsite the fact she was raised all her life by her black nanny, Nana Merce. However their idylic life is shattered when Ana Luisa gives birth to a child that, as the old saying goes, has “a touch of the tar brush“.
Ana Luisa accuses her husband, of course, of hiding his true indentity, though Jose, all the while, has known the truth about her, and all is eventually revealed which leads up to a tragic, tear jerker ending, with Ana Luisa coming face to face with the fact that she is the one who’s been hiding her true self. And I’ll give you one guess as to who her real mother is.
The film was a hit and, in fact, Rodriquez, like Imitation, remade the film in 1970, but this time with actress Juanita Moore, who played the black mother whose daughter passes for white in the 1959 version of Imitation of Life, as Nana Merce.
But if you’re curious and live in Southern California, there will be a screening of Angelitos Negros in Long Beach, CA, at the Long Beach Main Library on Tuesday Feb. 26 starting at 6PM.
In addition, after the film, there will be a concert by soprano Hope Foye, who was not only is a singer, but an activist and protege of Paul Robeson, and who, like so many other politically active black performers during the “Red Scare” period of the late 1940’s and 50’s, was persecuted and “blacklisted” by the U.S. Government for her outspoken views, as Robeson was.
In Foye’s case, her passport was confiscated by the Government after she performened in then Communist East Germany, and found it difficult to find work in this country. And so she established a sucessful recording and TV career in Mexico.
Here’s clip from Angelitos Negros: