Fredi Washington: ‘Ouanga’

Ouanga (1935), one of the first zombie movies and one of the only films of any kind to star Black actress Fredi Washington, is streaming free on Vimeo through Thursday, June 24, courtesy of the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

Washington, whom Hollywood generally found too light to play Black women unless her skin was darkened and too Black to play anything else, here stars in her natural tone as a Haitian plantation owner by day, voodoo priestess by night. In love with a white plantation owner who won’t marry her because she’s Black, she fights racism with tough words — I’ll show him what a Black girl can do” – and with even tougher voodoo.

Ouanga includes Hollywood’s first screen kiss between a Black actor and a white actor. Sheldon Leonard, later to be typecast in gangster roles and to become a major TV producer (i.e., The Andy Griffith Show), gets to kiss Washington, although his skin has been darkened for the role. Indeed, “he’s way darker than she is. And he’s white!” marvels author/screenwriter Tananarive Due, a producer of Shudder’s 2019 Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, who discusses Ouanga following UCLA’s Vimeo screening.

As for the zombies, don’t expect them to eat any flesh.

Filmed “entirely in the West Indies,” Ouanga, clocking in at just 56 minutes, isn’t a good movie by any stretch, but it is a historic one.

For a double feature, Due suggests pairing Ouanga with Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934) another horror film of the era about a light-skinned Black woman using voodoo for revenge against a white plantation owner. In this case, the woman (Olive Borden) and most of the other “Blacks” in the move are played by whites.

You can watch the 54-minute Chloe, Love Is Calling You right here, via the Internet Archive:

(Top image: Fredi Washington in ‘Ouanga.’ Source: UCLA Film and Television Archive)

About Les Luchter

Les Luchter is a former managing editor of Multichannel News, editor-in-chief of Cable Marketing, and news editor of Broadcast Week.

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