October 6, 1945 p. 26
"ST. LOUIS WOMAN," the play title which has caused so much controversy in the Negro press, a controversy which was picked up by the white press in an amused "look-at-them-fight-among-themselves" manner, prods me to once again devote this space to the subject, since it was here that the proposed production was first criticized. The date, August 18.
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FOR THE RECORD, let me quote a part of that column: "My first objection to the story is not the fact that it deals with whores and pimps primarily (they always make good theatre), but the fact that, running through the play, there is practically no conflict between the right and wrong way of life." The column continues, "It is my feeling that "St. Louis Woman" can be revised so that a good play will emerge and also, that one of the worst elements of the race won't be put on display without any underlying social influence to qualify that element. It would seem to me that with a good rewrite job done by craftsmen of the theatre with the proper social attitudes, a fairly good play could be gotten out of what now is the germ of a good idea. I have written my impressions of this coming production because I feel criticism prior to public showing is of far more value than it is after; also because we all vitally interested in the Negro as a playwright; because of Miss Horne's contract with MGM, it is highly probable she may not be able to choose or reject the kind of movie or show she will play in; and finally because we want to see plays dealing with Negroes, showing both sides of the picture and not the kind which only harp on the good-for-nothing-lot who exist from day to day with apparently no knowledge of decency."
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BECAUSE OF THE LONG EXPERIENCE this writer has had in the theatre, that column was written for the benefit of any and all who in any way are connected with the production of "St. Louis Woman." I said then and I say now, if a good rewrite job is done by a skilled playwright, with guidance from some one who is familiar with the problems and sensitivities of the Negro, there is no reason why a play cannot emerge which will be entertaining and which will have nothing in it offensive to the Negro.
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I SHALL NOT DWELL on what is wrong with the script here. (It is still being worked on). What I specifically want to talk about is our approach to these knotty problems .Let [sic] us not kid ourselves. We've got something to sell. But in order to sell it, we must see to it that the Negro question and Negro roles in theatrical productions, screen and radio are handled in a forthright, honest and intelligent manner--for we have reached the period where the American theatre-going public must be made to realize that Negroes rightfully resent the "Uncle Tom" or any other kind of stereotype. If, for any reason, a stereotyped role is written into a script, we want it counteracted by a character depicting high ideals and decency.
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TO WHOM ARE WE TRYING to sell our ideals? To the Negroes who invest? To the government which we support No! We are trying to sell these ideas to hard-boiled producers who more times than not, are completely unaware of our problems and aspirations and who think strictly in terms of boxoffice [sic] receipts and prestige. And any pattern which has clicked before, is the one producers automatically think of using.
Wouldn't it be wise then, to acquaint these producers with our complex problems, let them know what our goal is and allow them to become as indignant about the mishandling of Negro subject and characters as we ourselves have become? It would seem to me that this is the intelligent approach, for after all, we yet have no Negro producers nor are we doing anything in that direction.
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In line with this reasoning, I again quote from this column, dated September 8. "I have been in contact with one of the authors and producers (of 'St. Louis Woman'). I learned from them that they were in agreement with my criticisms of the script and have been assured that many changes have been made and more are being made. Also that the dialect will be dropped and actors will be allowed to read their lines naturally."
Seems to me we are now placed in the position whereby we have no alternatibe [sic] but to give these people the opportunity to make good their word. If we have convinced them that there are certain things which are offensive to the Negro, we have accomplished at least in part, what we have worked for. From this point on, it is fairly safe to presume that these and other producers when producing a show dealing with Negroes, will not unwittingly give offense, but instead, will be aware of what we want and expect in our theatre fare. And I for one, feel that if their approach comes because of sympathetic understanding rather than from fear of criticism, we then are learning to respect and live with each other on common ground.