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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Body and Soul

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Oscar Micheaux
Produced by Oscar Micheaux
Written by Oscar Micheaux (novel and screenplay)
Starring Paul Robeson
Mercedes Gilbert
Julia Theresa Russell
Distributed by Micheaux Film Corporation
Release date(s) November 9, 1925
Running time 102 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

Body and Soul is a 1925 race film produced, written directed, and distributed by Oscar Micheaux and starring Paul Robeson in his motion picture debut.



An escaped prisoner seeks refuge in the predominantly African American town of Tatesville, Georgia, by passing himself off as the Rt. Reverend Isiaah T. Jenkins. He is joined in town by a fellow criminal, and the pair scheme to swindle the phony reverend’s congregation of their offerings. Jenkins falls in love with a young member of his congregation, Isabelle Perkins, even though she is in love with a poor young man named Sylvester, who happens to be Jenkins’ long-estranged twin brother. Jenkins steals money from Martha Jane, Isabelle’s mother and convinces the young woman to take the blame for his crime. She flees to Atlanta and dies just as her mother locates her. Returning to Tatesville, Isabelle’s mother confronts Jenkins in front of the congregation. Jenkins flees and during a twilight struggle he kills a man who tries to bring him to justice. The following morning, Martha Jane awakens and realizes the episode with Jenkins was only a dream. She provides Isabelle (who is not dead) and Sylvester with the funds to start a married life together.[1]


  • Paul Robeson as Reverend Isaiah T. Jenkins / His brother Sylvester
  • Mercedes Gilbert as Isabelle - the Girl
  • Julia Theresa Russell as Martha Jane - Her Mother
  • Lawrence Chenault as Yello-Curley' Hinds - the Phony Reverend's Former Jailmate
  • Marshall Rogers as Speakeasy proprietor
  • Lillian Johnson as "Sis" Caline, a Pious Lady
  • Madame Robinson as "Sis" Lucy, a Pious Lady
  • Chester A. Alexander as Deacon Simpkins, a Church Elder
  • Walter Cornick as Brother Amos, a Church Elder


Paul Robeson made his film debut at the age of 27 in Body and Soul, playing the dual role of Jenkins and Sylvester. As part of the agreement to star in the film, Robeson received a $100 per week salary plus three percent of the gross after the first $40,000 in receipts.[2]


The original version of Body and Soul was a nine-reel production. When the filmmaker applied for an exhibition license from the Motion Picture Commission of the State of New York, it was denied approval on the grounds it would “tend to incite to crime” and was “immoral” and “sacrilegious.” Micheaux was forced to re-edit the film twice before the commission approved the film, which was reduced from nine to five reels.[3] The surviving copy of Body and Soul is based on this edited version; Micheaux’s director cut is considered a lost film.[4] Body and Soul is one of three surviving silent films created by Micheaux, who is credited with making 26 silent productions.[5]

Body and Soul was originally released to cinemas catering to an exclusive African American audience, and for many years the film was unknown to white moviegoers. In 2000, Body and Soul was presented at the New York Film Festival with a new musical score composed by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and performed live by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.[6]


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