The story is as familiar as Hollywood: a classical musician whose career has been thwarted by injury channels his frustrated desires into his son’s career, but his son would rather play swing music. But the cast is all black, and the film was made for the Jim Crow-era network of independent theaters for black patrons in the south and in larger northern cities. Clarence Muse, a gifted writer, actor, and composer who held a degree in international law, played legions of porters and servants in Hollywood films, but the “race films” of this era gave him an occasional chance to shine. Broken Strings is probably the high point of his career, a family drama that the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most influential black newspapers of the era, praised for presenting black characters as businessmen and upstanding citizens instead of violence-depraved criminals.
Film scholar Sergio Mims, programmer of Chicago’s Black Harvest Film Festival and writer of Indiewire’s Shadow and Act blog, will introduce the film and then lead an informal discussion of it. Seating is limited, so we ask that you RSVP to guarantee a seat.
Broken Strings (1940, 62 min., 16mm print courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD)
Black Cinema House
6901 S. Dorchester Ave.