Can discrimination exist in an America where everyone is Black? That’s among the questions posed by The Flying Ace(1926), a rare surviving example of movies produced early in the 20th century for Black audiences in segregated cinemas.
The Flying Ace, recently named to the U.S. National Film Registry, will be screened on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall and Community Center, 1 Conant Square, Route 7 in Brandon, Vt. Admission is free; donations are welcome to help support ongoing Town Hall renovation efforts.
The classic drama will be shown with live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer and composer who specializes in scoring and presenting silent films.
The Flying Ace was produced by Norman Studios in Jacksonville, Fla., using professionals such as Laurence Criner, a veteran of Harlem’s prestigious all-Black theater troupe, the Lafayette Players, but also many non-professionals for minor roles.
Criner plays Capt. Billy Stokes, a World War I fighter pilot known as “The Flying Ace” because he downed seven enemy aircraft in France.
Returning home to resume his former job as a railroad detective, he’s assigned to locate a stationmaster who’s gone missing along with the $25,000 company payroll.
While investigating, Stokes begins romancing the stationmaster’s daughter Ruth (Kathryn Boyd), causing a rivalry with another suitor, which leads to a break in the case.
With Ruth’s safety now at risk, Stokes’ dogged pursuit of the suspects leads to a climax highlighted by a dramatic airborne chase that calls upon his piloting prowess.
Films such as The Flying Ace were shown specifically to African-American audiences in areas of the U.S. where theaters were segregated.
Norman Studios was among the nation’s top film production companies making feature-length and short films for this market from the 1920s to the 1940s.
Featuring all-Black casts in stories meant to inspire and uplift, such films were popular with African-American audiences at the time. In Norman Studios films, the stories often took place in a world without the racial barriers that existed at the time.A live musical score for ‘The Flying Ace’ will be created by accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer specializing in music for silent film presentations. Rapsis said the Brandon Town Hall screening is a rare chance to see the film as it was meant to be experienced—on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience.