The Black Kino Fist: Black life as depicted in film history

Carmen Jones (1954)

Carmen Jones (1954) was a rarity for Hollywood: a mainstream film with an all-African American cast. It had been done only a few times before, notably Hallelujah (1929), Cabin in the Sky (1943) and Stormy Weather (1943). None of these had been a box-office success, so it isn't surprising that director Otto Preminger had so much trouble securing financing to make the film. Just coming off of United Artists' The Moon Is Blue (1953), Preminger approached U.A. executives Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin with the idea of adapting the stage show Carmen Jones that Billy Rose had done in 1943, still using the original music from Bizet's opera Carmen but with a new libretto. He was turned down. U.A. didn't think it would be commercially viable. Preminger later wrote, "I could do anything else I liked for them but not this. I soon discovered that most other companies would not touch it either." While he was in post-production on the Marilyn Monroe film River of No Return (1954) at Twentieth Century Fox, production head Darryl F. Zanuck asked Preminger to let him read his Carmen Jones script. Two days later, Zanuck committed Fox to the project and secured an $800,000 budget. 
Although the film would be released through Twentieth Century Fox, filming would take place at the RKO lot in downtown Hollywood. It was there that the cast rehearsed for three weeks on the already completed shooting sets and using the actual props. Preminger knew how important this film was to be and wanted everything worked out in advance. While both Dandridge and Belafonte were primarily known at that time as singers, their songs in the film would be dubbed. As Belafonte later remembered, "Because this was to be a black movie, and because blacks were still exotic to Europeans - and the movie had to be a financial success in Europe as well - Otto had to find a way to please the Bizet estate, which did not like what Hammerstein had done to the original work. They felt turning Carmen into a folk opera was not servicing the best needs of the opera, so Otto appeased them by hiring two opera singers to dub the main voices."
When the film was premiered on October 5, 1954, her portrayal of Carmen Jones made her an overnight sensation with the public and both the black and white press. Not only was Dandridge the first African-American actress to be ranked among the world's top beauties, but she was also the first African-American to be nominated as Best Actress by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 
-  Lorraine LoBianco for TCM
Status: Available for purchase.
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