To Save and Project: ‘Rufus Jones for President’ screens this weekend at MoMA

Rufus Jones for President, a 1933 Warner Brothers short, screens this weekend at To Save and Project, the 10th International Festival of Preservation at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  Presented in an archival print from the collections of the Black Film Center/Archive, Roy Mack’s Rufus will be paired with Gregory La Cava’s Gabriel Over the White House (also from 1933) for an election-themed double bill running Saturday, October 27th, at 5:00 pm (with the American release version of Gabriel) and again on Sunday, October 28th, at 3:45 pm (with Gabriel‘s British release version).  Both screenings are in the Roy and Niuta Titus Theater.   From the MoMA program notes:

Americans had the presidency much on their mind in 1933. Early in the New Deal, Vitaphone put out this jovially offensive fantasy in which Ethel Waters dreams that her very talented son (seven-year-old Sammy Davis, Jr.) is elected president of the United States.

Davis, Jr., with sammie

Rufus Jones for President stars the celebrated vocalist and actress Ethel Waters and–in his first on-screen appearance–Sammy Davis, Jr., both of whom have brought the film an amount of fame.  Their performances and those of the supporting cast have generally received positive critical notice.

Beyond the actors and their performances, discussion of the film has focused on the presence of many stereotypical motifs in the two-reeler: watermelons, chicken, craps.  Some such critiques, however, have been framed as readings of the intent and agency of the performers rather than outright denunciations of the short film as ‘racist.’

For those of you who won’t be in New York this weekend, the video is available online:

About BFC/A

The Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University was established in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about black people. The BFC/A's primary objectives are to promote scholarship on black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to encourage creative film activity by independent black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of black film traditions. View all posts by BFC/A

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