In the Old Hollywood history of talking films, movies released by major Hollywood studios after 1927's THE JAZZ SINGER from Warner Bros., Black writers did not get equal opportunities. In 1939, the same year GONE WITH THE WIND was released, RKO gave the public a blessedly short, sentimental tale of pre-Civil War days called WAY DOWN SOUTH. The movie runs about 65 minutes and was made as a vehicle for a boy singer named Bobby Breen. The kid really did have a beautiful voice. With his natural, down-to-earth manner, he should've been in Warner Bros. features with Pat O'Brien or James Cagney as a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who possessed a sweet voice, ripe for radio popularity. Breen plays the son of beloved plantation master in WAY DOWN SOUTH. All the Black people who work on the plantation sing and dance, basically, because master has never and never will sell any of them. Black veteran actor Clarence Muse plays a butler in the big house. Muse co-wrote the WAY DOWN SOUTH screenplay with -- Langston Hughes. I kid you not. Their names are onscreen in the opening credits as writers. That was 1939.
You never saw the name of a Black woman onscreen in credits as a writer -- until 1961.
During Pride month a couple of years ago, TCM (Turner Classic Movies) aired films with an LGBTQ connection. That June, we saw films starring gay actors and films based on works by gay playwrights such as Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams and Harvey Fierstein. We saw the movies WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and TORCH SONG TRILOGY. I watched to see if there would be any Black representation. There wasn't. And there could have been.
Lorraine Hansberry was young, gifted, Black...and a lesbian. An out lesbian. To see Lorraine Hansberry's name on the big screen under the words "Screenplay By" in a top Hollywood studio release was a first. It's Black History, Women's History and LGBTQ History.
Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart is an excellent documentary on the late, great playwright/screenwriter and activist done for AMERICAN MASTERS on PBS. It's streaming free for Pride month. To see it, go to this link and then scroll down:
Here's a trailer for the documentary.