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Friday, December 27, 2013

The Emperor Jones (1933) d. Dudley Murphy

Paul Robeson in his break-out role in the movie version of the Eugene O'Neill play Emperor Norton. Also, this play/movie is hella racist. Just flat out, old school, racist.


Movie Review
The Emperor Jones (1933)
d. Dudley Murphy
Criterion Collection #370

 Although The Emperor Jones is part of the Paul Robeson: Portrait of An Artist box set, The Emperor Jones is also noteworthy because it is so early in time.  Only a small fraction of the Criterion Collection films take place before World War II.  The explosion in Post World War II cinema seems to be roughly equivalent to the take-off in the production of novels prior to World War I.  Thus, watching any film made before 1945ish is an event, but often exasperating, since the limitations of the first generation of "talkies" makes for an antiquated viewing experience.

 Also, The Emperor Jones is hella racist, down to the minstelry dialect that Paul Robeson uses.  It sounds like the rough equivalent of an English actor doing a hick southern accent: He gets the message across but it's obviously "acting."  I don't know alot about Robeson except his wikipedia biography, but I'm sure he had mixed feeling about the role.  The use of the "N" word is frequent to ubiquitous, mostly by Robeson himself when referring to the islanders that he "conquers" by convincing them he is impervious to all but silver bullets.  The racism is most galling in the portrayal of Emperor Norton's "subjects."

 I'm not a big advocate of political correctness, but I'm pretty sure the racism that permeates The Emperor Jones would shock most if not all contemporary viewers.

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