Jul 7, 2014
With the decidedly deplorable and downright disgusting deluge of miscegenation-championing propaganda in movies, commercials, and virtually every and any sort of advertising, it is quite relieving when one is reminded that there actually was a time when race-mixing was depicted as something universally unholy and akin to bestiality. Luckily, I recently happened upon the film Ouanga aka The Love Wanga aka Drums in the Night aka Drums of the Jungle which, aside from being the second zombie film ever made in cinema history (White Zombie (1932) starring Béla Lugosi and directed by Victor Halperin is the first), is a work about the evils of miscegenation featuring Jews like Hollywood writer/director/producer/actor Sheldon Leonard (The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show) portraying negroes and starring green-eyed high-yellow beauty Fredi Washington, who was best known for playing “Peola” in the 1934 version of the film Imitation of Life directed by John M. Stahl and starring Claudette Colbert, as a black Haitian plantation owner that demonstrates that there is no wrath quite like a negress’ scorn by unleashing a voodoo curse to reanimate the dead as revenge against her WASP boy toy for getting engaged to a racially pure blonde Aryan babe. The first talkie as well as cinematic swansong of once prolific but now forgotten silent era auteur George Terwilliger (who directed, among other things, the 1922 William Randolph Hearst produced work Bride’s Play, which was intended as a starring vehicle for the producer’s then-mistress Marion Davies), this little proto-flesheater flick is an unequivocally b(ad) movie that has probably rightly been forgotten by cinema history, yet as a would-be-titillating tale of racial discontent, deleterious mayhem-inspiring mixed blood, and savage spiritual warfare that is completely at odds with the left-wing counter-culture zombie flicks of George A. Romero and the overall multicultural-friendly state of contemporary horror, Ouanga makes for an undeniably provocative footnote from zombie film history. Of course, anti-miscegenation themes are nothing new for the horror genre as demonstrated by the collected works of American Spenglerian horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft, as well as satanic Teutonic Renaissance man Hanns Heinz Ewers (whose work was influenced by his own personal travels to places like Haiti, as well as by the eugenics movement, especially in regard to early Zionist Max Nordau’s 1892 work Degeneration aka Entartung). Additionally, the early decades of cinema produced their fair share of classic anti-race-mixing works, as most obviously demonstrated by D.W. Griffith's pioneering epic The Birth of a Nation (1915), which features a scene where a character played by Mae Marsh leaps to her death to avoid being raped by a nefarious negro named Gus. Advertised with the then-salacious taglines, “Meet CLELIE. . .Naive. . .YOUNG and BEAUTIFUL. . . LITHE YIELDING and PRIMITIVE LOVE-HUNGRY CHILD OF THE TROPICS!” and “STRANGE LOVES OF QUEER PEOPLE!,” Ouanga is certainly no Val Lewton masterwork, but it is certainly more enthralling than the majority of intolerably frivolous and formulaic flesheater filmic feces that comes out nowadays.
Set in Paradise Island in the West Indies, Ouanga opens with a shot of a voodoo statue and a nameless/faceless narrator remarking regarding the ex-slaves of the island, “The life of its inhabitants is marked by an unhurried peacefulness and a joyous contentment. Their simple occupations are colorful and primitive. And whether they live in mountain, valley, or town, eventually they find their way to the great city markets.” Of course, at night the negroes get naughty as demonstrated by scenes of sinister half-naked spades walking amongst the shadows in a zombie-like fashion and the narrator’s ominous remark, “Night falls…and with the rise of the great white tropical moon comes a sinister awakening…mysterious figures slip from shadow to shadow…nature becomes ghostly and unearthly…alive with evil movement, shuddering incantations and gruesome rites…and seemingly from everywhere comes throbbing, pulsating beats of the voodoo drums…. Drums… Drums…” One of these mysterious figures is double-black magician Klili aka Clelie Gordon (Fredi Washington), who after receiving a sacred necklace from an elderly voodoo priest, declares, “Shall I lose this, may evil and death come upon me,” thus officially ushering in her second career as a venomous voodoo priestess. Indeed, Clelie is a high yellow Haitian plantation owner who has adopted the dually dark religion of her much darker servants and she plans to use her new black magic skills to obtain her great white love Adam Maynard (played by Philip Brandon, who spent most of his filmmaking career working as an assistant director, including on Ouanga), who has just inherited the quaint Haitian plantation of his deceased father.
Clelie is so hopelessly infatuated with wussy white boy Adam that she stalked him all the way from Haiti to New York City. While Adam confesses to Clelie that she was “wonderful during those two lonely years” (he assumedly used her as a concubine/exotic primitive curiosity) when he bumps into her on a ship sailing to Haiti, he also tells the very Europid-like black broad that there is no way in hell that he will be her lover again, as he soon plans to marry his virginal blonde Aryan fiancée Eve Langley (Marie Paxton). Clelie has talked herself into believing that she is as Aryan as a BDM (Bund Deutscher Mädel) girl to deny the fact that her ex-lover believes, “the barrier blood that separates us cannot be overcome.” In fact, she is so desperate, she even offers herself into slavery, melodramatically pleading to Adam, “I’d be your slave…anything.” As a novice voodoo priestess, Clelie decides to work her magic on Adam and recruits a pitch black maid named Susie (Babe Joyce) to help her to carry out her demonic deeds. Indeed, Susie has a thing for Adam’s servant Jackson (Sidney Easton) and Clelie offers to help the black maid obtain her ebony wonder via voodoo if she agrees to put a “voodoo death charm” (aka “ouanga”) in Eve’s purse, though the plan is ultimately botched. Of course, Clelie is not the only lunatic lover in Haiti, as Adam’s overseer LeStrange (played by swarthy but non-negro like Hebrew Sheldon Leonard, who wore no make-up for the film) is in love with the self-loathing black voodoo priestess and tells her, “You must be mad to think you can win the love of that sort of white man.” In fact, LeStrange is so obsessed with Clelie (who calls him “black scum”) that he makes her the following threat: “You said that if you couldn’t have my master, no other woman would. Well…that goes for me too. No one else is going to have you, is that clear? I’ll kill you first.” After Clelie manages to reanimate two coon corpses, she has the negro zombies kidnap Adam. While Clelie confesses to LeStrange regarding Adam, “I’m trash to him. Good-for-nothing, trash. Black trash,” she still manages to suffer delusions of grandeur and resentfully states to her captive Eve, “A placid white-blooded thing like you make Adam happy? Adam needs a woman of fire…passion, like me.” In the end, lethally lovelorn negro overseer LeStrange saves the day by killing cultivated yet crazed coon Clelie just like he said he would. Indeed, symbolically named Aryan lovers Adam and Eve are rightfully united and can go on to have racially pure (aka racially unconfused) babies that will not suffer from the racial schizophrenia that ultimately led to Clelie’s truly tragic end.
While Fredi Washington would portray a character that attempts to ‘pass’ for white in both Imitation of Life and Ouanga, she apparently had a much different view on the subject in real-life as demonstrated by her 1945 remark: “You see I'm a mighty proud gal and I can't for the life of me find any valid reason why anyone should lie about their origin or anything else for that matter. Frankly, I do not ascribe to the stupid theory of white supremacy and to try to hide the fact that I am a Negro for economic or any other reasons; if I do I would be agreeing to be a Negro makes me inferior and that I have swallowed whole hog all of the propaganda dished out by our fascist-minded white citizens.” Ironically, it was Washington’s racially ambiguous appearance that prevented her from getting more black roles (apparently, she turned down the opportunity to play white characters), as she lacked the jet black appearance to play archetypical negro maid/mammy roles. Judging by the fact that she refused to 'pass' and play white characters and only dated/married black men (she was once married to Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who was the first black brother that was elected to Congress from New York state), it is fairly likely that the actress approved of the anti-miscegenation message of Ouanga, though she probably found some of the film’s depictions of blacks to be somewhat dubious. Indeed, the film features a number of scenes that would probably cause most modern p.c.-lobotomized pansy viewers to piss their panties, including a scene where a cracker states regarding blacks, “They're as dumb as ghosts.” Additionally, most of the Haitian buck negroes featured in the film are totally indistinguishable from the two choco-zombies. Of course, anyone who has visited any American urban area will probably notice that most of the colored folks there walk and move in a fashion that is not all that unlike that of the walking undead. Indeed, were it not for the likes of Romero, zombies may have always been associated with blacks.
Somewhat reminiscent yet ultimately aesthetically inferior to White Zombie, Ouanga somehow managed to spawn an all-black remake entitled The Devil's Daughter (1939), yet it lacks the potent miscegenation theme and is thus totally worthless in every single regard. While director George Terwilliger originally planned to shoot Ouanga entirely in Haiti, he befriended a real-life Haitian voodoo priest that scared the hell out of him and inspired him to relocate the production to Jamaica, or as Gary D. Rhodes wrote in his book White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film (2006) regarding the seemingly cursed production: “...Terwilliger befriended the head of a cult and his voodoo followers. When asked to perform in front of the cameras, however, the group became angry. Terwilliger soon found an OUANGA in his car, as well as encountering a punctured tire and a tree deliberately placed in the road. Warnings came of more evil to follow, and Terwilliger quickly decided to move the cast and crew to Jamaica. The morning he was to sail, however, his dancers had disappeared and the drummers and some extras had been arrested. Undaunted, the director began shooting again after settling in Jamaica, only to have a rainstorm drown two Jamaicans working on the film; in addition, sickness killed a crew member, and a cyclone destroyed the sets. After two months, an exhausted Terwilliger returned to the U.S. with footage in hand. Through seen in England as early as 1934, OUANGA--for unknown reasons--did not play U.S. Theaters until 1936.” As Richard Stanley revealed in his documentary The White Darkness (2002), scientists have done brain scans of black Haitians while they are in voodoo trances that prove their gray matter takes on a different form during these heightened spiritual states, thus demonstrating how serious these black, black magicians take their unholy religion. While I am hardly someone that believes in magic, especially third world ghetto magic, the curious production history of Ouanga, as well as the film’s tribal-drum-driven score and sometimes oneiric visuals certainly allowed me to be able to enact suspension of disbelief and get into the whole voodoo negro zombie atmosphere, which is certainly something I cannot say for most zombie flicks. Of course, as someone who was first taught about the religion in elementary school by a boderline elderly negress who once confessed that her husband put a litter of kittens in a sack and shot them with a shotgun, voodoo (or Vodoun aka Vodun) has always been a marginal interest of mine and Ouanga certainly reignited that interest and of course, the anti-miscegenation theme was the icing on the cake. There's certainly something special about a hokey old horror film that seems like it was inspired by the writings of Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:07 AM
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