Recently I had recommended to me the 1936 film THE GREEN PASTURES. I was told that it was an historical curiosity and one of the few all black cast movies from the period to get a DVD release. The film moves the tales of the Old Testament from the
I found the film fascinating and bizarre in almost equal measure. It would take a much savvier writer than I to properly address the historical significance of this movie. But I can honestly say I was unsure if I should be insulted by its often degrading view of black people or stunned that the film was made at all. Make no mistake- the movie is insanely offensive in its portrayal of rural southern blacks. The
Smartly Warner Brothers makes no bones about the film being racist. In an onscreen card before the film begins they admit the film is a product of its times and certainly does not represent their view of African-Americans today. But their statement that to ignore the past racist attitudes is to try to pretend they did not exist- which would be wrong. I think this may be the best way to acknowledge the very thorny issue of watching deeply racist films that painfully mirror the attitudes of the times in which they were created. To hide them from view is to sanitize the past but often they can inflame still seething anger over wrongs on both sides. I agree that it’s a bad idea to try to forget the stereotypical racial views of past decades and I’m thrilled to be able to see any films made in the 1930s as I know how many of them are gone. But part of me wonders if this isn’t Warner’s having its cake and eating it as well. After all- they’re making money off this old property just as they did when it was originally made. Are there good intentions behind this DVD release or just a smart bit of profiteering? And am I leaning towards praising them because I’d like to see more such movies released from their vaults? After all SONG OF THE SOUTH is still one of the most requested movies unavailable on video. Disney refuses to release it out of fear of criticism for its supposed racist portrayal of southern blacks. Would a short preface like the one seen here be enough to shield Disney from charges of racism?
In the final analysis I don’t think I care. I enjoyed THE GREEN PASTURES and I think that most people of any race would be able to see it for what it is- a reflection of the mind-set of the times. Black people have come a long way in the past 70 years in the