Battlepanda: Banned in Memphis


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Banned in Memphis

This week's Memphis Flyer contained a wonderful history article on Lloyd T. Binford, who was head of the Memphis Censor Board from 1928 to 1956.

But it was Binford's attitude toward blacks that caused him — and Memphis — the most condemnation. Binford was absolutely opposed to movies showing blacks and whites together on the same social level. In 1945, he blocked the hit musical Annie Get Your Gun from Ellis Auditorium because there were blacks in the cast "who had too familiar an air about them." For the same reason, he banned the film Imitation of Life (1934) with Claudette Colbert and Brewster's Millions (1945) with Eddie "Rochester" Anderson because certain scenes "gave too much prominence to Negroes."

To show the films in Memphis, local distributors had to delete these scenes. As a result, some movies shown here were minutes shorter than the same films shown in other cities, because Binford ordered the complete removal of scenes featuring prominent black performers like Duke Ellington or Cab Calloway. Memphians probably never realized that Lena Horne's segment, for example, was snipped completely out of the 1946 picture Ziegfield Follies, as was Pearl Bailey's role in the 1947 Variety Girl.

In 1947, Binford axed Curley, a Little Rascals-type comedy distributed by United Artists, simply because it included one scene that showed black and white children in a classroom together. In his official letter to the United Artists distributors, Binford explained, "The Memphis Censor Board ... is unable to approve your picture with the little Negroes, as the South does not permit Negroes in white schools nor recognize social equality between the races, even in children."

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