African American Film Pioneers: The Emperor Jones
Paul Robeson is Brutus Jones, a resourceful, young Pullman porter who kills another man in a dice game, is jailed, and later escapes to a small Caribbean island where he sets himself up as emperor in this 1933 loose adaptation of the Eugene O'Neill play. The film made Robeson a star and opened to often glowing reviews that cited his powerful performance and director Murphy's visual innovations. But its rough language and integrated cast caused a furor in segregated America and the film was quickly pulled from theatres. The original version also ran afoul of censors resulting in a significant loss of footage. In 2002, The Library of Congress restored the film to its most complete version allowing audiences to once again see Robeson in one of his most complex screen roles.
(Dudley Murphy, 1933, 76 min., 35mm print courtesy of Library of Congress)
Allyson Field is Associate Professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies.