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HISTORY

A summary of the film, under the title Wages of Sin, in Henry T. Sampson’s 1977 book, Blacks in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films, describes the ending of the picture as follows: “At this point, the story takes an unexpected turn, a new and unusual character enters the picture, and the activities that follow bring the story to a logical and happy climax.” Sampson listed the following as cast members: Sylvia Birdsong, William A. Clayton, Jr., Katherine Noisette, Alice B. Russell, William Baker, Bessie Gibbens, Gertrude Snelson and Ethel Smith.
       The Wages of Sin marked the motion picture acting debut of Lorenzo Tucker. His casting was a result of a “chance meeting” with Oscar Micheaux, a pioneer of early black independent filmmaking, in the lobby of Philadelphia, PA’s Dunbar Hotel, according to Sampson’s book. Tucker went on to star in a number of Micheaux films and came to be known as “The Black Valentino,” as noted in a 21 May 1983 Atlanta Voice article.
       Principal photography took place in 1928. Gary Null’s 1975 book, Black Hollywood: The Negro in Motion Pictures, stated that Micheaux financed his pictures by traveling from theater to theater around the U.S., using still images as proof of completed films that were ready to ship out. He would then secure advances from theater managers and use the money to fund his productions. Low production budgets necessitated short shooting schedules, and since Micheaux was unable to use proper studio facilities, he often shot in his own apartment, or on location in parks and streets. In addition to writing, directing and producing, he handled ...

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A summary of the film, under the title Wages of Sin, in Henry T. Sampson’s 1977 book, Blacks in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films, describes the ending of the picture as follows: “At this point, the story takes an unexpected turn, a new and unusual character enters the picture, and the activities that follow bring the story to a logical and happy climax.” Sampson listed the following as cast members: Sylvia Birdsong, William A. Clayton, Jr., Katherine Noisette, Alice B. Russell, William Baker, Bessie Gibbens, Gertrude Snelson and Ethel Smith.
       The Wages of Sin marked the motion picture acting debut of Lorenzo Tucker. His casting was a result of a “chance meeting” with Oscar Micheaux, a pioneer of early black independent filmmaking, in the lobby of Philadelphia, PA’s Dunbar Hotel, according to Sampson’s book. Tucker went on to star in a number of Micheaux films and came to be known as “The Black Valentino,” as noted in a 21 May 1983 Atlanta Voice article.
       Principal photography took place in 1928. Gary Null’s 1975 book, Black Hollywood: The Negro in Motion Pictures, stated that Micheaux financed his pictures by traveling from theater to theater around the U.S., using still images as proof of completed films that were ready to ship out. He would then secure advances from theater managers and use the money to fund his productions. Low production budgets necessitated short shooting schedules, and since Micheaux was unable to use proper studio facilities, he often shot in his own apartment, or on location in parks and streets. In addition to writing, directing and producing, he handled production duties on set, edited his material, and managed distribution. He involved his younger brother, Swan Micheaux, Jr., in his business, the Micheaux Film Company (a.k.a. Micheaux Book and Film Co.), but the two had a falling out over Swan’s mismanagement of company funds and Swan left to work at Dunbar Film Corporation, according to Barbara Tepa Lupack’s 2002 book, Literary Adaptations in Black American Cinema: From Micheaux to Morrison. Lupack speculated that production of The Wages of Sin “must have been a difficult but cathartic one for Micheaux, since the story had many painful and personal reverberations” involving his relationship with Swan.
       A New York City opening at the Renaissance Theatre was scheduled to occur 2-6 Feb 1929, according to advertisements in the 30 Jan 1929 New York Amsterdam News and 2 Feb 1929 New York Age. The film was set to open on 1 Apr 1929 at Norfolk, VA’s Attucks Theatre and Pittsburgh, PA’s Elmore Theatre, as noted in the 30 Mar 1929 issues of Norfolk’s New Journal and Guide and the Pittsburgh Courier. In Chicago, IL, where Michaeux’s company was first headquartered, the film was halted by the Chicago Censor Board. In advance of the film’s release, the 8 Dec 1928 Chicago Defender had published a review touting the picture as “an improvement over the usual photoplay of this character and a long step forward in the production of racial photoplays.”
       The Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame named its annual awards event, begun in 1974, the Oscar Micheaux Awards. Among other posthumous honors, Micheaux was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987.

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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Afro-American [Baltimore, MD]
29 Dec 1928
p. 8
Afro-American [Baltimore, MD]
16 Mar 1929
p. 7
Afro-American [Baltimore, MD]
6 Apr 1929
p. 29
Afro-American [Baltimore, MD]
6 Apr 1929
p. 30
Afro-American [Baltimore, MD]
4 May 1929
p. 10
Atlanta Voice [Atlanta, GA]
21 May 1983
p. 14
Chicago Defender
8 Dec 1928
p. 6
Chicago Defender
8 Jun 1929
p. 6
Hartford Courant [Hartford, CT]
12 Nov 1976
p. 37
New Journal and Guide [Norfolk, VA]
30 Mar 1929
p. 3
New York Age
2 Feb 1929
p. 6
New York Amsterdam News
30 Jan 1929
p. 8
Philadelphia Tribune
29 Nov 1928
p. 6
Pittsburgh Courier [Pittsburgh, PA]
30 Mar 1929
p. 8
San Francisco Examiner
16 Feb 1981
p. 46
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Winston Le Jaune
J. Lee Le Jaune
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCER
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "Alias Jefferson Lee" by Oscar Micheaux (publication undetermined).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Wages of Sin
Release Date:
1929
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 2 Feb 1929 at the Renaissance Theatre; Baltimore, MD, opening: 18 Mar 1929; Pittsburgh, PA, and Norfolk, VA, openings: 1 Apr 1929
Production Date:
1928
Physical Properties:
Silent
Black and White
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

After his mother dies, African American motion picture producer Winston Le Jaune returns to his home for the burial. His older sister relays to him their mother's dying wish for Winston to take care of their younger brother, J. Lee, a ne'er-do-well who showed himself to be a coward during World War I in France. After returning to the city, Winston sends for J. Lee and gives him a job in his company. J. Lee promptly steals company funds, putting the business into financial trouble. He spends lavishly in cabarets, at wild parties, and on women. In turn, Winston fires J. Lee and is forced to make numerous trips to try to raise money for his ailing company. While away, Winston meets and falls in love with a woman. They plan to marry, but she suddenly disappears. In Chicago, Illinois, Winston reunites with J. Lee and offers him his job back. J. Lee now intentionally destroys the company and betrays his ...

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After his mother dies, African American motion picture producer Winston Le Jaune returns to his home for the burial. His older sister relays to him their mother's dying wish for Winston to take care of their younger brother, J. Lee, a ne'er-do-well who showed himself to be a coward during World War I in France. After returning to the city, Winston sends for J. Lee and gives him a job in his company. J. Lee promptly steals company funds, putting the business into financial trouble. He spends lavishly in cabarets, at wild parties, and on women. In turn, Winston fires J. Lee and is forced to make numerous trips to try to raise money for his ailing company. While away, Winston meets and falls in love with a woman. They plan to marry, but she suddenly disappears. In Chicago, Illinois, Winston reunites with J. Lee and offers him his job back. J. Lee now intentionally destroys the company and betrays his brother.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.