AFI Movie Club: CARMEN JONES
This riveting rendition of “Carmen” with an all-Black cast, CARMEN JONES stars Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. Dandridge was nominated for an Oscar® for her performance, making her the first person of color to be nominated for a leading role.
Watch Anika Noni Rose announce the film:
Trivia about CARMEN JONES
DID YOU KNOW? CARMEN JONES is based on the 1943 musical of the same name with music by Georges Bizet, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, as produced on the stage by Billy Rose. The musical was derived from the 1875 opera CARMEN, which was based on the short story of the same name published in 1845. According to director/producer Otto Preminger, the movie was derived more from its literary source more than from its musical adaptations.
DID YOU KNOW? Theater impresario Billy Rose—who produced CARMEN JONES on Broadway—originally intended to produce the film adaptation with Elia Kazan as director. Rose was known for his vast legacy as a showman and lyricist, as well as being the husband of entertainer Fanny Brice. Their relationship was immortalized in the Oscar® nominated film FUNNY LADY (1975) starring Barbra Streisand and James Caan. Rose ultimately sold the rights, and Otto Preminger and Twentieth Century-Fox produced the project.
DID YOU KNOW? CARMEN JONES marked the feature film debut of actor Brock Peters, who later became known for his performance as the falsely accused Tom Robinson in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962).
DID YOU KNOW? CARMEN JONES marked Oscar®-winning graphic designer Saul Bass’s first movie title sequence, beginning an iconic career that lasted more than 40 years.
DID YOU KNOW? The European release of CARMEN JONES was delayed because director/producer Otto Preminger had neglected to clear the rights to Georges Bizet’s music in Europe before production began. The Bizet score was already in the public domain in the U.S., but it was still privately owned in Europe. Preminger planned to hold the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival aboard an American aircraft carrier to avoid conflicts with European copyright law, but a special out-of-competition screening was eventually permitted on festival grounds.
DID YOU KNOW? CARMEN JONES launched the careers of Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. In an interview one month before the film’s release, Belafonte was asked if the movie would open new possibilities for Black actors. He replied: “Not really… but I think it will provide some help symbolically… I don’t think Hollywood, as a whole, is geared to pioneering of this sort.”
DID YOU KNOW? CARMEN JONES was nominated for two Academy Awards® – Best Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture) and Best Actress, marking Dorothy Dandridge’s sole acknowledgement from the Academy. She was the first person of color to be nominated for a leading role.
Learn more at the AFI Catalog.
The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions
-When the stage version of CARMEN JONES was seen by audiences, World War II was underway, and like the fictional characters, African Americans were finding jobs tied to the war effort. However, discrimination remained rampant and Black organizations promoted a “Double Victory Campaign” to fight white supremacy at home as well as abroad. This campaign inspired the Civil Rights Movement. How does CARMEN JONES represent the Black workforce and its inherent issues of discrimination?
-In his seminal text “Notes of a Native Son,” James Baldwin included an essay titled “Carmen Jones: The Dark is Light Enough,” which detailed how the white filmmakers presented a white-washed, rose-colored fantasy of African American life. The all-Black cast was critiqued for removing the reality of racism, where “the spectacle of color is divested from its danger.” Do you agree with this appraisal of CARMEN JONES, or does its legacy carry more significance from today’s perspective?
-What are the main themes of CARMEN JONES, and how are they depicted in the film’s story through Carmen and Joe’s relationship? How do the characters transform?
-Is Carmen’s independence seen as empowerment or as the cause of her tragic downfall? Is Carmen a hero or a villain? Describe the role of freedom and how it relates to the different characters.
-Can you name any other adaptations of the opera CARMEN—or film plots that follow the same story? How do they differ from CARMEN JONES?
-How would you rate CARMEN JONES?
Watch Halle Berry talk about Dorothy Dandridge in this exclusive video from the AFI Archive:
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