Spencer Williams, Jr. was the only black director who received frequent commissions from white moguls to make films during the race movie era. Williams was a big, boisterous actor-singer best known for playing Andy Brown in the early-50s TV series Amos ‘n’ Andy. In early-talkies Hollywood he had worked as an actor, a sound technician and a screenwriter on low-budget or indie films. In 1940 he was hired by Dallas exhibitor Al Sack to write and direct films, apparently with a minimum of front-office interference. He made nine or ten of them: oddball melodramas (Girl in Room 20), low-octane jive musicals (Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A., Juke Joint) and a trio of religious epics: The Blood of Jesus, Go Down, Death and Of One Blood.
The first of these, 1941’s The Blood of Jesus, has a naive grandeur to match its subject. A morality play about an angel and a devil fighting for a woman’s soul, it begins with a baptism and ends in bloody death near a cross — all scored to rousing gospel music. Told in a spare style with no hokum, the movie has the feeling of an honest, unmediated religious experience. For decades, this and other Williams films were thought lost, but in the mid-80s prints were discovered in a Tyler, Texas warehouse. And so 50 years after its making, Jesus was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress’ National Registry of Films.