‘Porgy and Bess’ was one of the first movies every made to feature a fully black cast. The movie musical in 1959 was based on the 1935 Broadway production by George Gershwin. This was a major reason why George’s brother Ira sold the rights to Samuel Goldwyn.
‘Porgy and Bess’ tells a story of the early 1900s fictional Catfish Row, a section of Charleston, South Carolina, which serves as home to a black fishing community. Bess – a woman with a disruptive history and Porgy a crippled beggar.
Prior to Goldwyn’s offer for the movie rights to ‘Porgy and Bess’ many others wanted to buy the rights to produce a movie that was performed in blackface. The Gershwin family violently opposed to that kind of movie making. Due to the themes of fornication, drug addiction, prostitution, violence, and murder, the movie proved to be difficult to cast. Many black actors felt that the movie did not accurately portray the black community, but rather perpetuated negative stereotypes from which they wanted to get away from.
The film is considered one of the great “lost” movies, an important film that somehow, has been forgotten and unavailable to the public. Luckily, a brave soul has shared the full-length movie. Feel free to watch it while you can on Youtube.
by Pascal Rosenast, Organizational Change Management degree candidate at the New School for Public Engagement