Every year, the Arlington Church of God in Akron has a concert in celebration of African American History Month entitled "Windows," to spotlight the community, and the church windows, designed by the late African American artist Doug Phillips of Cleveland. This month, we are suggested to recognize the contributions of Americans of color on society, but while everyone has their standbys, those who want to continue the journey to change our world for the better try to dig deeper.
When we think of African Americans in film, we know the journey of combating the stereotypical images of the maid and servant characters who can't read nor speak English well, and that journey does cumulate in the mainstream stereotypical images from the early days of film to the early 1960s. But, during that time, there were Americans of color combating these images through their art. One of them was Spencer Williams, and his 1941 film, The Blood Of Jesus.
Williams was the only other film director making films at this time to combat mainstream images of African Americans, next to Oscar Micheux at the time. At the time, this film was called a "race" film since films like these only played for African Americans, as they were segregated from Hollywood and from enjoying a film with people of all colors. Technically, this film would be considered an independent film today.
The film stars Cathryn Caviness, Spencer Williams, Rogenia Goldthwaite, Frank H. McClehan, and James B. Jones. It takes place in a riverside Baptist community, and Martha (Caviness), is baptized in the river, even though her husband, Raas ( Williams) isn't. Raas is an atheist who does not believe in what Martha believes. Upon coming home, Martha finds out that Raas went out hunting rather than attend church, even though he actually stole and poached a boar from next door. As Raas cleans his gun, he accidentally drops it and shoots Martha. Raas, remorseful, feels really bad for this occurrence, and allows members of the church community to pray by her bedside in vigil. An angel (Goldthwaite) comes for the soul of Martha, and takes her to the Crossroads between Heaven and Hell. She initially wants to go to heaven, but is tempted by Judas Green (McClehan), who is an agent of Satan (Jones), and takes her to a nightclub. Judas is able to get her hired to work there by taking to the manager, but the angel returns and tells her flee. What will happen to her soul? Watch the film to find out. One thing to look out for is how, for a limited budget, the power and the mastery of the visual effects are in relation to the story unfolding.
As we observe this month, let us dig and discover the beauty of the contributions of Americans of color, be it in the lovely church windows or films like these.