Virtual Screening Room: Ouanga (1935)

Streaming Online
Thursday, Jun 10, 2021 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Black and white still image from Ouanga

Presented by UCLA Film & Television Archive

Made possible by the John H. Mitchell Television Programming Endowment

Already a Broadway star when she turned to movies in 1929, the light-skinned, green-eyed Fredi Washington became, as scholar Ellen C. Scott wrote, “one of the most alluring—and threatening—black figures in Hollywood” for the challenge her presence posed to the industry’s racist constructions of Blackness and racial identity. Containing this challenge is an explicit theme of John M. Stahl’s Imitation of Life (1934), which features Washington’s most well-known and enduring role as Peola, a light-skinned Black woman compelled to accept and internalize the trauma of the in-betweenness imposed on her. Not so in Ouanga. Here, Washington plays Clelie, a plantation owner who finds herself as bound by strictly enforced racial lines and hierarchies as Peola. Only, as a secret voodoo priestess, she has the means to fight back. Spurned by her object of desire—a neighboring white plantation owner—Clelie mobilizes racialized myth and magic to enact her vengeance. Suffused with an immutable humanity and embracing a both/and duality, Washington’s performance defies the film’s efforts to position Clelie as its monster and cracks open a still expanding space for Black women in horror today.

The Archive is pleased to present its 2015 restoration of Ouanga with an introduction and post-screening conversation between UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Associate Professor Ellen C. Scott and award-winning author and lecturer Tananarive Due, who teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA.

Restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute. Restored from an abbreviated 35mm 1951 acetate reissue print. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio.

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black and white still image from ouanga