Director: Arthur Egeli
Writer: Ian Bowater (Screenplay) Adrienne Earle Pender (Play)
Starring: Shaun Parkes, John Hensley, Nick Moran, Liza Weil, Nija Okoro, Lonnie Farmer
Plot: In 1921, Eugene O’Neill rejects the use of blackface and casts African American actor Charles Gilpin in the lead of his groundbreaking play “Emperor Jones”.
Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes
There may be spoilers in the rest of the review
Story: The Black Emperor of Broadway starts as we meet Charles S Gilpin (Parkes) a black actor in the 1920s whose only shows often involve himself needing to blackface despite his talent, until ambitious Broadway playwright Eugene O’Neill (Hensley) has created a new play, one with a black lead and he wants to break the barriers by having a black leading actor.
With Charles hired, it doesn’t take long before Charles and Eugene clash over certain words being used in the script, ones the Charles would never see one black man say to another black man, leading to Charles needing to learn the part and deciding whether to take a stand or work with what he is given to make history.
Thoughts on The Black Emperor of Broadway
Characters – Charles S Gilpin is a black actor that gets small roles, while making ends meet with his wife, he does get strong reviews when he performs, but being a black man, nobody wants to take him seriously, he is given the lead in a play which finds its way to Broadway, which brings new pressures, using words he never would imagine and dealing with celebrity status. Eugene O’Neill is the playwright that has a vision of making a new play with a black lead, he does push the limits to make this happen, challenging his star, with the words that a white man would have written, he will clash with Charles on set, wanting to break boundaries, casting black actors instead of going with blackface. Jasper Deeter is the co-lead in the play, he wants to work with the best talent, which includes Charles, knowing he will bring out the best in himself.
Performances – Shaun Parkes in the leading role shows the strength to make a difference for a race, while also showing the addictions which can consume a celebrity figure. John Hensley as the idealistic playwright shows us how living in the shadows of a famous father can make the decision process happens. Nick Moran is the middle ground between the two, showing that talent wants to work with talent.
Story – The story here follows actor Charles S Gilpin a black man cast in a play that would be the first one to have a lead in a Broadway play, while trying to also make the character true to a black man, instead of one just written by a white man. This does show the struggles off stage to make change in the theatre process, by going against the normal of the time of blackface for black characters and turning to black actors to perform, while also bringing the ideas that a star can turn to their vices to see them spiral out of control. This does highlight an important change in history, showing how someone took a chance to make it happen.
Settings – The film uses the settings to show us the different location that the play would take place, showing how the people involved would leave away from the stage too.
Scene of the Movie – The first performance.
Final Thoughts – This is an important look at a change in the theatre process, showing us how a black actor is given a chance on the big stage for the first time, overcoming the troubles of the time.