by Tim Gordon
All month long during Black History Month, we will select 28 films that are essential to the Black experience in cinema. Our initial entry is the militant drama, Uptight.
Based on a book by Liam O’Flaherty, this film was an update to the 1935 film, The Informer with the setting changed from Dublin to Cleveland. The story centers on a group of Black revolutionaries who are betrayed by one of their own. At the time, the film was a landmark collaboration between activist and actress Ruby Dee and director Jules Dassin.
Shot on location in Cleveland, Ohio, it was reported that the FBI “closely monitored the making of Uptight right up to the eve of its premiere.” They were initially alerted to the subject matter of the film by employees at Paramount Pictures. In a case of life imitating art, during its production, crew members and studio workers acted as informants to agents at the FBI’s Cleveland office, who directly reported details of the set to bureau director J. Edgar Hoover.
The story was a passion project for Producer/director Dassin who wanted to remake The Informer with an all-black cast, set in inner-city America. He felt it mirrored black-white relations in the US in the 1960s. Uptight was the only screenplay credit in the distinguished career of Dee.
Written by Dassin, Julian Mayfield, and Ruby Dee (her only screenplay credit), Uptight starred Raymond St. Jacques, Dee, Frank Silvera, Roscoe Lee Browne, Mayfield, Janet MacLachlan, Max Julien, Juanita Moore, Dick Anthony Williams, JiTu Cumbuka, John Wesley, Ketty Lester, Robert DoQui, Leon Bibb, and James McEachin.
Uptight is available on YouTube