Zombie films, opportunities for black actors

Theresa Harris and Frances Dee in I Walked With a Zombie

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