1957 July 3

Memphis Bans Film “Island in the Sun” For Interracial Theme


Memphis authorities on this day banned the film Island in the Sun because of its interracial love theme. In the context of 1957, it is remarkable that the film was even made and released by a major Hollywood studio, that it did not encounter more opposition in the South, and that it did well financially. It featured two interracial romantic relationships, one involving Harry Belafonte, and the other Dorothy Dandridge, a singer and movie actress. Both actors were African-Americans,  and in the plot, each one was involved with a person of the opposite sex who was white. The dialogue included frank discussion of interracial marriage. In one plot element, there was a question of the exact racial lineage of one prominent white family.

The film was produced by Daryl F. Zanuck, a major Hollywood figure who had just quit as the head person at 20th Century Fox and launched his own independent film production. (The film was nonetheless released by 20th Century Fox.)

Island in the Sun is generally regarded as the first major Hollywood film released by a major studio to feature an interracial theme involving African-Americans. (There had been at least two previous films involving European-Asian relationships.) Star Joan Fontaine reportedly received hate mail, one which enclosed nickels and dimes with a note reading, “If you are so hard up that you need to work with a nigger . . . .” The mail was apparently organized by a racist organization.

Watch the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aqpCjPGero

Read: Sharon Willis, High Contrast: Race and Gender in Contemporary Hollywood Film (1997)

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