The Story of Eve: The Sexy Twenties Part II


The Story of Eve: Sinner, Saint and Part-time Movie Star

As films edged into the 1920s, the dreamweavers got raw. Indeed, the ’20s has been decribed as one of the most liberated of film eras. Let’s just take a peek, shall we?

Enter “Flappers:” wild thangs who liked living on the edge. These young women drank booze from silver flasks, rode with fast young in fast cars, and had sex–and plenty of it.

“The studios presented an endless stream of films about America’s flaming youth; movies in which flappers and boyfriends drove fast cars, used hip flasks and partipated in wild orgies…that lasted until dawn,” (Kenneth W. Leish, Cinema, 1974; p.45).

I know you’re asking “what’s the catch?” Did flappers die in car crashes, or wind up in poverty? Or were they cruel, heartless monsters (like Bara) who filmically sucked the life’s blood of innocent men?

The answer is none of above. About the worst thing that happened to these young women was that they got married (although there was a catch as we’ll see later).

And Hollywood didn’t stop there. The dreamweavers began to portray unfaithful wives in films such as Male and Female, Three Weeks and Don’t Change Your Husband. In these movies sex-starved wives had affairs because they weren’t getting any TLC at home. And directors depicted these liaisons as perfectly acceptable. In Three Weeks for example:

A young queen escapes from her loveless life for a brief period, during which a handsome commoner makes passionate love to her, first on a bed of roses and later on tiger skins. At the end of three weeks she returns to her people, thoroughly satisfied (Leish, 1974; p.46).

What on earth was going on? The answer lies in an economy that was booming. World War I had only recently ended. The war had generated a lot of jobs for everbody–including African American men and women and White women. The Great Migration (1910-1930)–thousands of Black folk fleeing the South for the promised land– had already begun. Hollywood’s generous attitude toward White women was a reflection of this post-war affluence.

Yet, as history has shown us, when some are enslaved there can only be so much freedom for everyone else.

Meanwhile, the first Black screen goddess made her debut in King Vidor’s musical: Hallelujah (1929).

MoMA | King Vidor’s

Hallelujah took as its theme the age old problem of Good Colored
Boy going bad and the battle between the callings of the spirit and
temptations of the flesh. The film opens on the idyllic little
Johnson farm where the family–Pappy Johnson, Mammy, their adopted
daughter Missy Rose, their eldest son Zeke, and their youngest boys
–energetically gather the cotton harvest (Bogle, 1973; pp.28-29).

To be continued…

References: Leish, K W, Cinema. 1974
Bogle, D. Toms, Coons, Mulattos, Mammies, and Bucks. 1973

Copyright Valjeanne Jeffers 2013, Valjeanne Jeffers-Thompson, 1997 all rights reserved.


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