Sanders of the River (1935)

“Tens of millions of natives under British rule…”

Commissioner Sanders (Leslie Banks) tries to prevent warfare between rival chieftains (Paul Robeson and Tony Wane) in British-ruled Africa.


Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this dated, offensive film “gives the impression that black Africans [were] prosperous, happy, and peaceful under British rule.” Commissioner Sanders (“Sandi”) is shamelessly portrayed as a heroic, benevolent father-figure who must intervene in order to save the warring African “children” from themselves. I was grateful whenever footage of native African tribes appeared on-screen; their (hopefully authentic) dancing and music making were a welcome relief from the colonialist blather of the storyline. Paul Robeson’s singing is (as always) a highlight, but nonetheless woefully out of place. Worth watching for historical purposes only.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Paul Robeson’s singing
    Paul Robeson
  • On-location footage of native African tribes
  • Tony Wane’s unusual star-shaped hairdo

Must See?
No, although it’s a revealing look at the historical distortion that was prevalent in so many early films.


One Response to “Sanders of the River (1935)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must.

    Not at all interesting as a narrative, the film is largely sloppy and pedestrian as it progresses in embarrassing fashion. And, gee, it’s a semi-‘musical’ to boot (?!). Robeson himself ultimately felt his involvement was the result of being duped. He disowned the film. Wikipedia briefly explains why:

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