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Directed by Spencer Williams

United States 1941 57 mins. In English

Spencer Williams, following the example of his precursor Oscar Micheaux, worked on several race films through the 1940s and 1950s, the most well-known of which is his first film and masterpiece, The Blood of Jesus. Working with a meager $5,000 budget, Williams crafted a wholly compelling tale of an atheist, Ras (Williams himself), who accidentally shoots his newly-baptised wife, Martha (Cathryn Caviness). Martha, caught at the crossroads between Heaven and Hell, goes through a series of afterlife tests, coming across the Devil, nightclub owners, jazz bands, and the mob. Featuring spiritual songs by Reverend R.L. Robinson’s Heavenly Choir, the film was added to the National Film Registry in 1991 and cited by Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust) as a profound influence on her work. “Among the most spiritually adventurous movies ever made. [It] conveyed the moral crisis of the urban/country, blues/spiritual musical dichotomies through [its] documentary style and fable-like narrative.”—Armond White.