This weekend, I went to the Music Box’s Silent Second Saturday to see Ramona (1928). Music Box showcases a different silent film every second Saturday at noon. The film is accompanied by live organ music, which is fabulous. The movies range from comedy, like Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, to drama, like Ramona. I highly recommend that you check out the series.
Ramona is a fascinating movie about racism against Native Americans. It’s also a film that we are lucky to have. It was popular during its day but all the copies of the film disappeared. This copy was found in Czech Republic. Another film in the Second Saturday series was also found in the Czech Republic, which makes me wonder what other silent movie treasures that country holds.
The basic plot line is about a young woman, Ramona, who is adopted into a wealthy family headed by dour Señora Moreno and her son, Felipe. Ramona is the life of the party; she is kind and vivacious. She is well liked by everyone except Señora Moreno. She falls in love with Alessandro, a Native American migrant worker who sheers the sheep at the ranch. The story goes on to detail their troubles with society and its racism against Native Americans.
Considering the incredible popularity of toxic films like Birth of a Nation, this film was really remarkable in how it discussed racism. I’m so used to seeing films that make me cringe in how they deal with race, ethnicities, other religions, and women. Ramona deals with it seriously. Bigotry is the driving force in the entire film. (Spoilers ahead). Racism is why Señora Moreno objects to Ramona marrying Alessandro. However, this is this amazing scene where race is used as empowerment. In this scene, Señora Moreno is trying to convince Ramona that marrying Alessandro is a bad idea. Señora Moreno even promises jewels. But then goaded into it, Señora Moreno tells Ramona about her parents, noting that her mother was Native American. This revelation gives Ramona the strength to tell Señora Moreno off. She yells out the window, “I’m an Indian! I’m an Indian.” Her newfound heritage is clearly the driving factor to her strength.
Later on, you see the ways that racism destroys Ramona and Alessandro. First, the doctor refuses to come and take care of their ill child because they are Native Americans. Second, a group of marauders attacks their town and ruins their home and farm. They cannot abide this peaceful community. Third, Alessandro is accused of horse thievery and shot on the doorstep of their new home. It’s really a misunderstanding over swapped horses but the murderer doesn’t care to hear him out.
Now the end gets a little complicated. Ramona falls into a coma and Felipe, her adopted brother and son of Señora Moreno, revives her with tenderness. He spends most of the film deeply in love with her even though she constantly says that she loves him like a brother. So the ending is a bit awkward that he saves her. Presumably, they’ll marry and live happily ever after. But I don’t think the ending diminishes the message about the evil of bigotry in the film. She was happy with her husband, Alessandro, and child but events ruin that happiness.
Dolores del Rio plays the lead role. She is absolutely astonishing. One of my favorite scenes is where she dances while Felipe plays his guitar. She is so full of light and energy that you want to join in with her.
It’s not a perfect film. You do feel the passage of time in it but I’m glad that I got a chance to check it out. Come on out to next month’s movie Chicago on July 12. Click here to learn more about upcoming movies in the series.