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Ouanga

A woman wearing a crown and raising a sword.
June 10, 2021 - 4:00 pm

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This screening will be available after the livestream until June 24.

Ouanga

U.K., 1935

An early entry into the zombie genre, Ouanga was shot in 1933 on location in Haiti and Jamaica but didn’t make it to U.S. screens until 1941 when it was dumped on the states’ rights circuit by Paramount as The Love Wanga and largely forgotten. That might have been the last of it given the film’s myriad failings as a “quota quickie” but for the ferocious performance of its star, Fredi Washington. By 1941, what would ultimately be Washington’s last film appearance was already four years behind her, the end of an all-too-brief movie career that nevertheless looms large over the era and beyond. Already a Broadway star when she turned to movies in 1929, the light-skinned, green-eyed Washington became, as scholar Ellen C. Scott wrote, “one of the most alluring—and threatening—black figures in Hollywood” for the challenge her presence posed to the industry’s racist constructions of Blackness and racial identity. Containing this challenge is an explicit theme of John M. Stahl’s Imitation of Life (1934), which features Washington’s most well-known and enduring role as Peola, a light-skinned Black woman compelled to accept and internalize the trauma of the in-betweenness imposed on her. Not so in Ouanga. Here, Washington plays Clelie, a plantation owner who finds herself as bound by strictly enforced racial lines and hierarchies as Peola. Only, as a secret voodoo priestess, she has the means to fight back. Spurned by her object of desire—a neighboring white plantation owner—Clelie mobilizes racialized myth and magic to enact her vengeance. As she definitely rages, "Black, am I? Alright, I'm Black. I'll show him what a Black girl can do.” Suffused with an immutable humanity and embracing a both/and duality, Washington’s performance defies the film’s efforts to position Clelie as its monster and cracks open a still expanding space for Black women in horror today.

The Archive is pleased to present its 2015 restoration of Ouanga with an introduction and post-screening conversation between UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Associate Professor Ellen C. Scott and award-winning author and lecturer Tananarive Due, who teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA.

B&w, 56 min. Director: George Terwilliger. Screenwriter: George Terwilliger. With: Fredi Washington, Philip Brandon, Marie Paxton, Sheldon Leonard. 

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute. Restored from an abbreviated 35mm 1951 acetate reissue print. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio.