Go Down, Death! (1944)

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“Go Down, Death” is a 1944 film directed by and starring Spencer Williams. The film is loosely based on James Weldon Johnson’s poem and play of the same name.

The story follows the character of Martha Jane (played by Myra D. Hemmings), a young woman in a rural African American community in the South. Martha Jane is engaged to a man named Joe (played by Samuel H. James), but her mother disapproves of the relationship, believing that Joe is too poor and uneducated.

As Martha Jane struggles with her relationship, the community is also facing other challenges, including poverty, illness, and discrimination. Death (played by Spencer Williams) is depicted as a mystical figure who appears throughout the film, guiding the characters through their struggles and providing comfort in the face of death.

Throughout the film, the characters sing spirituals and engage in discussions about faith, justice, and the afterlife. Death is portrayed as a compassionate figure who understands the struggles of the community and offers hope for a better future.

The film uses a mix of African American music and language, along with elements of magical realism, to create a powerful and emotional portrayal of the African American experience in the South during the 1940s.

Overall, “Go Down, Death” is a unique and significant film in African American cinema, exploring themes of love, faith, and social justice in a powerful and emotional way.

Spencer Williams

Sam Elljay, Jean Roddy, James Weldon Johnson

Myra D. Hemmings, Samuel H. James, Eddye L. Houston

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