The Symbol of the Unconquered, like Within Our Gates, was written, directed, and produced by Micheaux in 1920. The story centers on Evon Mason (Iris Hall) after she inherits land from her grandfather. On her journey to reclaim the land, Evon is aided by her new neighbor, Hugh Van Allen (Walker Thompson), with whom she develops a romance. When the Ku Klux Klan tries to force Hugh off his land, Evon rides gallantly to alert the town and saves the day—a reference to, and an inversion of, D.W. Griffith’s Klan sequence in The Birth of a Nation. In this scene, Iris Hall depicts a fearless and determined woman, a film role that black actresses were rarely given the opportunity to play.
A singer, dancer, and actress, Hall was born in Barbados and immigrated to the United States at age thirteen. Like Preer, she became a member of the Lafayette Players and also had a role in Micheaux’s The Homesteader. Beyond her acting career, Hall was a popular Harlem beautician and business owner. Little else is known about her, but she remains one of the most distinctive black actresses of the race film era.
By Right of Birth
The Lincoln Motion Picture Company (LMPC) was established in 1915, and its fifth and final film, By Right of Birth, was produced in 1921. Today, only four and a half minutes of the LMPC’s entire catalog survive.
By Right of Birth depicts the struggles of Juanita Cooper (Anita Thompson Reynolds), a young, educated woman searching for her birthparents. The narrative includes a romance between Juanita and Philip (Clarence Books), a law student and popular athlete. Designed as a response to The Birth of a Nation, By Right of Birth was praised for portraying African Americans and Native Americans in a better light than many early movies.
Anita Thompson Dickinson Reynolds (1901–1980) offered a sensitive and compelling performance as Juanita. The role in some ways mirrored her real life, in that she often traversed racial boundaries in pursuit of knowledge and experience. Reynolds described many of these experiences in her memoir, American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World (Harvard University Press, 2014). A world traveler, intellectual, and performer, she shared the company of Ruth St. Denis, Rudolph Valentino, W.E.B. Dubois, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Nella Larsen, Langston Hughes (her cousin), and many others. During her remarkable life, Reynolds worked as a dancer, model, actress, artistic muse, literary critic, journalist, Red Cross nurse, and educator.
The Scar of Shame