Film / The Blood of Jesus

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Satan practicing hands-on leadership

The Blood of Jesus is a 1941 American film with an all-black cast, directed by Spencer Williams.

Martha and Ras are a couple living somewhere in the rural American South. Martha has a strong Christian faith, and as the film opens, she is being baptized into the local black church. Ras (Spencer Williams), however, is not religious, and goes hunting on the morning of his wife's baptism. Afterwards, Martha tries to get Ras to accept Jesus, but he isn't interested.

Events take a tragic turn when Ras drops his gun, causing it to discharge and shoot Martha in the chest. The church choir prays and sings at her bedside, but Martha is believed to be beyond hope. An angel appears, the spirit of Martha leaves her body, and she goes on an allegorical journey to decide whether she goes to Heaven or Hell.

The Blood of Jesus is one of the most famous examples of the "Race Film", a movie made by black Americans targeted at black audiences, usually concerning racial themes. Made for $5000, it was so successful that director Spencer Williams got a contract to make a whole series of race films.


Tropes:

  • Adventures in Comaland: Most of the second half of the film. An angel appears, and the spirit of Martha joins her. The angel sends Martha off on a journey that is supposed to end on the crossroads between Heaven and Hell. Judas, sent by Satan, lures Martha into a life of debauchery that involves jazz clubs and prostitution. Martha eventually finds her way, and is redeemed by the blood of Jesus falling from the cross.
  • Amazing Freaking Grace: One of several hymns sung during the film; this one is sung during the baptism.
  • As You Know: Two parishoners at the baptism ceremony helpfully explain that Martha is getting baptized but her husband Ras is not churched.
  • At the Crossroads: The angel tells Martha to bear right at the crossroads. Sure enough, there's an actual crossroads, with a cross in the middle. The left side of the cross is labeled "to Hell", and there's a jazz band performing there. The right side is labeled "to Zion". Martha doesn't actually take a turn; instead she collapses at the foot of the cross and the blood of Christ redeems her.
  • Bedlah Babe: The gifted dancer/contortionist who performs at the jazz club is dressed this way.
  • The Ghost: God/Jesus, who materializes as a voice from the heavens saying things like "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Martha's story becomes this when Satan himself shows up and urges her to whore herself out, while the angel also appears and tells her to follow the road to Zion.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: If you are having an Adventure in Comaland and you've been sent on a journey by an angel, and someone named "Judas Green" shows up and wants to lure you into good times in the city, you probably shouldn't go.
  • Satan: Complete with the Halloween costume and horns. He dispatches Judas to lead Martha astray, and later shows up in person to try and get her to go into a life of prostitution.
  • Stock Footage: The shot of souls arising to heaven was lifted from a 1911 Italian film called L'Inferno.
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