Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

August 17, 1932

On August 17, 1932, the Atlanta Daily World reported that Langston Hughes and over twenty other African-Americans artists were stranded in Moscow after the collapse of a “project to produce a motion picture depicting ‘the exploitation of the Negro in America from the days of slavery to the present.’”  

Literary scholar David Chioni Moore’s article  “Langston Hughes in Central Asia” discusses the context for the film: 

In the spring of 1932, the quasi-Soviet German film agency Meschrabpom worked to recruit a group of black American actors and musicians to help make a film in Moscow. Black and White would depict the terrible conditions of African Americans in the US and thus would share in the Soviet Union’s broader strategy to portray itself as the champion of oppressed and coloured peoples around the world. Hughes rapidly agreed to join the group, and in June 1932 he left New York on the ocean liner Europa with a group of twenty-two fellow Negroes (the honoured term for African Americans at that time), who were supposed to be artists but who were, in fact, mainly young adventurers and leftists. Hughes was the screenwriter, hired to make sure the film well represented the realities of American Negro life. Upon arrival, Soviet Socialist Moscow was a revelation for Hughes and his compatriots. They became minor celebrities as Amerikanski Negrochanski tovarishi (‘American Negro comrades’).

After two months, however, the film project fell apart. An improbable German-Russian script, plus the hope that the US would finally extend diplomatic recognition to the USSR, made the Russians wary of any films that might offend American officials. When the project collapsed in mid-September, about half the group returned to the US and the other half took a short, programmed tour of a few Central Asian cities before returning home. Hughes, however, abandoned the tour group in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and remained for several months in Central Asia.



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