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Reviving and Reviewing the “Race Film”

Blood of Jesus

Spencer Williams, 1941, 68 min

Co-presented by Wolf Humanities Center and Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with Lightbox Film Center at International House Philadelphia. This series revisits so-called “race films”: works of independent African American cinema produced from the 1910s to the 1940s. The afterlives of these films are manifest in their recurring religious themes, the vexed politics of their preservation and restoration, and their creative in influence on later filmmakers.

Blood of Jesus
This “masterpiece of folk cinema that has scarcely lost its power to astonish” centers on a woman who journeys between heaven and hell after her husband accidentally shoots her.

"The financial backer of Spencer Williams' The Blood of Jesus (1941) claimed it was 'possibly the most successful' and 'lived the longest' of all the movies of its period created by black filmmakers for black audiences. Williams wrote, produced and directed this religious drama. He also stars in the leading role of Razz, a ne'er-do-well who accidentally shoots his wife, causing her to hover in limbo between life and death, heaven and hell. The struggle for a woman's soul is underscored by ethereal gospel songs alternated with 'down-and-dirty' blues numbers." - Roger Fristoe, Turner Classic Movies