Record #1162

Date:
05/11/1937
Record Type:
Memo
From/By:
Francis Stuart Harmon
To:
Joseph I. Breen
Reel:
Reel 11
Frame Start:
11-1947
Frame End:
11-1951
Legacy ID:
1172
Legacy Year:
1937
Legacy Index:
Production Code
Comments:
EDITORIAL COMMENT: This is very much a Harmon rather than a Breen piece. Breen does not use words like ""unconscious"" or ""stereotype."" Nor, I'm sure, would he agree with the sentiments expressed here, probably either about a response to prevailing attitudes to the South, the

Suggesting guiding principles in Connection with motion pictures dealing with Negroes and whites. Harmon has compiled a memo of suggested guidelines for the Production Code and the representation of 'Negroes and Whites'. Racial issues and the Production Code. Includes Breen asking for Harmon's thoughts.

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Harmon to Breen, 5 November 1937: Suggested Guiding Principles in Connection with Motion Pictures Dealing with Negroes and Whites "1. Sequences arraying one race against the other race should not be approved. "Examples: a. A race riot as in Atlanta or St. Louis. b. All the 'heavies' should not belong to one race and all the sympathetic characters to the other. c. If a picture is to deal with mob violence, then cool-headed, constructive members of both races should be portrayed working together, or along parallel lines to restrain the hotheaded, criminal elements in both racial groups. "2. Miscegenation is, of course, absolutely prohibited by the Production Code. "3. While the Code provides that rape and seduction may be suggested when essential to plot (although never shown by explicit method) neither rape nor seduction should be shown on the screen with a member of one race as the sole offender and of the other race as the sole victim. "Examples: a. If the 'Scottsboro case' were to be filmed (which I should deprecate) we should insist that both white and negro tramps be suggested as attackers of the girls on board the freight train. b. The script writer quite properly changed the story of Gone with the Wind so as to have a negro and a white man attack Scarlett O'Hara, with the negro seizing her horse and the white man seizing her person (roles reversed in the book). On the other hand The Birth of a Nation with its portrayal of a negro savagely raping a white woman, definitely breeds racial hate and a comparable sequence today should not be approved. "NOTE: Statistics, which are entirely trustworthy, gathered by Dr. Monroe Work of Tuskegee show that in more than 60% of the lynchings in the south since 1885, a white woman was not even remotely involved, hence rape is not needed as plot motivation for mob violence. "4. While it may be necessary for plot motivation in a specific story to show a white man living in adultery with a negro woman or indulging in an illicit sex affair with a negro girl, dramatic conflict between two women, (one white and the lawful wife, the other black and a mistress) should not be carried to the point where the sex antagonism becomes racial, as, for example, a personal meeting between the wife and the negro mistress might easily engender. "5. In crimes of violence, there should be no indication that a negro commits a crime because his skin is black, but rather because his heart is black. By the same token there should be no indication that a white man commits a crime because his skin is white but rather because his liver is white. "6. Inflammatory or disparaging names and epithets, identified with racial, social or economic inferiority, should be avoided. "Examples: a. Nigger, blackamoor, 'saddle-colored' when referring to a mulatto, nigger wench, 'the black and tans.' b. 'Boy' as characteristic name for menials and 'boss' as characteristic greeting of white men by negroes, are examples in point. Here gain, an individual case may be thoroughly in character but care should be taken in the same picture to have other characters use difference terminology so as to avoid 'stereotyping.' In other words, psychological 'Jim-Crowing' should be guarded against both in action and dialogue. "7. Care should be exercised to avoid 'stereotype' of either race. "Examples: a. Negroes should not be characterized so frequently as menials, (pullman porters, waiters, cooks, etc.) or as lazy ('Stepinfetchits') or as buffoons, that substantial numbers of people come to regard these as all inclusive representations of a race that has produced such poets as Paul Lawrence Dunbar, such scientists as Dr. George W. Carver, such actors as Richard Harrison, such civic leaders and educators as Booker T. Washington, Robert H. Moton, Dr. John Hope, and artists such as Paul Robeson. "In other words, one type should not be portrayed so frequently as virtually to exclude the other types from the subconscious minds of the audience. "Likewise, white people should not be shown as a general rule adopting either (1) an overbearing or (2) a patronizing attitude toward negroes. This does not mean that a particular white man in a particular sequence should not assume such an attitude. "8. While it is entirely proper to show an individual of one race superior to an individual of the other race, there should be no unchallenged dialogue to the effect hat one race is superior to the other. "9. Sectional aspects of the interracial problem need to be watched also. "Examples: a. Not all southern negroes should be shown as excessively humble while negroes in the north are pictured as independent. b. Not all southern white people are overbearing and prejudiced and all northerners are not unprejudiced and courteous. "10. The history, institutions, prominent people, and citizenry of each race should be represented fairly in pictures. This particular section of the Code, written to cover 'other nations' seems fully applicable to interracial problems as well, especially to period pictures dealing with slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, etc. "When legitimate, the thought should be developed that this country is 'the indivisible inheritance' of both races; that both have contributed to its strength and its weakness; and that the two races are not perpetually in opposition but as a general rule are working together. "11. Personally I believe it is proper for white people and negroes to appear together in the same scenes in motion pictures . "Example: While I do not like Martha Raye and found her dance number in a recent feature picture personally distasteful, I took no exception to the fact that she was in this set with negroes. I am aware, of course, that southern exhibitors protested and I am sure this protest reflected the existing prejudices of many southern theatre-goers, but I believe this industry must seek to formulate principles for its guidance in interracial relations on a national rather than a sectional basis. "12. In dealing with the many doubtful situations which arise in the field of interracial relationships in motion pictures, I believe there are three general tenets which should apply: a. Do the interracial situations in this picture 'lower the moral standards of those who see it?' b. Are 'correct standards of life' in the field of interracial relationship (with due regard to the requirements of drama and entertainment) portrayed in this picture? c. Assuming that the respective roles of white and negroes in this picture were reversed, could reasonable exception then be taken by either race?"This is accompanied by a letter, 11-05-1937, to Breen. "Immediately on receipt of your wire asking for a concise statement as to what, in my judgment, should not be approved in motion pictures dealing with negroes and whites, I went to work on the enclosed. This is an attempt to outline the guiding principles which, in my personal opinion, should be followed when dealing with motion pictures of this type. "I am not prepared to say that prevailing sentiment in the South is in accord, but I do feel than in developing a general policy for an industry of national and international scope, the enclosed memorandum reflects fairly accurately the point of view of thoughtful leaders, both black and white, with whom I have been working for nearly twenty years in the realm of interracial relationships."

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