House Behind the Cedars (1924)

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This silent melodrama was but one of many African-American productions depicting the trauma encountered by young girls "passing" for white. Rena (Shingzie Howard), a mulatto, falls in love with a rich aristocrat (Lawrence Chenault, a light-skinned black actor) and he with her. In the long run, however, rather than cause a scandal, Rena returns to her upwardly mobile black suitor, Frank Fowler (C.D. Griffith). "Frank," she whispers (via an intertitle), "I am miserable." Filmed on-location at Roanoke, VA, The House Behind the Cedars was produced, written, and directed by the prolific African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, who based his story on the real-life Alice Rhindelander, a poor black girl from New Rochelle, NY, who married New York socialite Leonard "Kip" Rhinelander. The Rhinelander family attempted to have the marriage annulled on the grounds that young "Kip" had been deceived by the girl as to her African-American heritage. A jury, however, decided in favor of Alice.