To read Part I, covering the independent Race Movie years of the 1910s and '20s, click here
To read Part II, covering the Hollywood Studio years of the 1930s and '40s, click here
In American silent films, minority roles were almost invariably filled by white actors in exaggerated and offensive make-up. Latinos in silent films usually played greasers and bandits; Asian-Americans usually played waiters, tongs and laundrymen; and blacks usually played bellboys, stable hands, maids or simply "buffoons." Not surprisingly, both Asian-Americans and blacks responded by launching their own alternative silent cinemas. But whereas Asian-American Silent Cinema quickly faltered, silent, black "race movies" flourished. In the 1930s and '40s, Hollywood began to phase out the practice of blackface (while continuing the practice of redface and yellowface) and successfully wooed race movies' sizable and thus profitable audience. By the 1950s, with its enormous budgets and star power, Hollywood had effectively co-opted and destroyed the independent Black Cinema known as race movies. The result was that there were far fewer examples of Black Cinema in the decade. In the years that followed, as TV chipped away at film’s dominance, a few black actors began appearing on the small screen in shows like Beulah (1950-1953) and The Amos 'n Andy Show (1951-1953) which, whilst hardly socially progressive, at least offered more acting opportunities for black actors.