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Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Darktown Revue (1931)


As a filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux was something of a firebrand, but his attitudes and methods were anything but predictable - often leveling criticism at certain strata of the African-American community. His most outrageous film is a traditional minstrel show - an olio of broad comedy and choral interludes. It is an acknowledge of minstrelsy as a defining tradition of African-American stage performance. If nothing else, The Darktown Revue is an invaluable historical document for recording on film the "Hard Shell Sermon" routine popularized by turn-of-the-century minstrel performer Amon Davis. but there is something else. True to form, Micheaux's depiction of a minister is not flattering. Davis's comic sermon of gibberish is a scathing satire of charismatic religion, made even more troubling by the fact that it is performed by a black man in blackface.By the same token, one cannot help but wonder if Micheaux was further provoking his audience by having the uplifting Donald Heywood choir open the film with a rendition of "Watermelon Time." 


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