Zombie films, opportunities for black actors
Theresa Harris is at the beginning of this clip and also when you scroll to 4:00 min. Vivian Dandridge, Dorothy Dandridge’s sister is the mother of the baby.
I Walked With a Zombie (1943) and King of the Zombies are 2 films that showcase forgotten black talent of yesteryear. I Walked with a Zombie is the more intelligent serious film. Theresa Harris has an ample role as a maid but a gorgeous and well-spoken maid. Here she looks like a younger Viveca Fox. Her resume also includes significant parts in Baby Face, Professional Sweetheart, and Jezebel. She could have been bigger than Dorothy Dandridge or Angela Bassett if it weren’t for the time period but she paved the way. I hope a film will be made on her to resurrect her memory.
King of the Zombies (1941) is a comedic spoof. It’s silly compared to the critically and academically-acclaimed I Walked with a Zombie. Although 3rd billed, it stars Mantan Moreland, another forgotten black actor. He was a staple for Monogram films, one of the top low-budget studios of the era. He was one of their money-makers and studio stars. If not top billed he was at least 2 or 3rd billed. He was a big fish in a little pond so to speak.
Unfortunately in the 1950s onward, he received backlash from the black community for his comic portrayals considered offensive and demeaning. Thankfully future generations are more considerate of the time period. This man broke barriers. He was funny and talented. He was a successful mainstream black actor in the Hollywood studio days. His humor is far more respectable than stars who glorify drugs, pimps, and guns.
King of the Zombies also displays the comic talents of the sexy Marguerite Whitten.
Mantan Moreland, Marguerite Whitten, and Leigh Whipper (gaunt butler) in King of the Zombies
I’m surprised you didn’t mention “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). You probably know this already, but the hero of the film is a Black man, and a lot of people thought it was a social/political statement because it came out in the late 60s; among other things, it shows an African-American man saving/rescuing a White woman.
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I didn’t mention Night of the Living Dead because that’s 25 years after the films I mentioned. Times were different in the 60s for black actors. The 50s really brought better opportunities. It was harder to be a hero and a sex symbol in mainstream Hollywood during the 30s and 40s.
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