“We’ve got to try twice as hard as they do — otherwise we’re sunk!”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Indeed, the film opens with a fiery speech by a street-speaker about the evils of “White demons” ruling over black bodies and lives for 600 years:
… and from there, we see a White teacher taking his Black students on a trip to Wall Street, explaining the origins of the name.
The irony of what follows next in the loose narrative — which includes plenty of violence, poverty, and drug use — is not lost, given that the lives of the young adults in this film are fueled by all the options NOT given to them in a White man’s America. Unfortunately, this film is currently unavailable except in bootleg versions, which compromises the viewing experience — especially given that it’s often challenging to make out exactly what characters are saying; however, Clarke’s fluid direction and DP Baird Bryant’s fast-moving, ultra-mobile camerawork at least provide us with a visceral sense of this world.
In 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, editor Stephen J. Schneider describes this hard-to-find film as “a raw, unflinching look at the power struggles and casual violence of Harlem’s street gangs,” and argues you should “find a copy somewhere, somehow — you won’t regret it.” Viewers will have to decide for themselves if it’s worth seeking out, but it does represent a significant attempt in mid-century cinema to represent a more authentic perspective on Black American life (albeit one helmed by a White woman).
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)