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Flying Ace Movie Poster

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THE FLYING ACE. Directed by Richard E. Norman • 1926. Jacksonville, Florida was once “The Winter Film Capital of the World,” providing year-round sunlight to beleaguered East Coast moviemakers. By 1926, most production had decamped to Hollywood, but the Norman Film Manufacturing Company remained, making low-budget “race films” for exhibition in segregated theaters across America. White entrepreneur-director-distributor Richard E. Norman lured noted Harlem actor Lawrence Criner to Jacksonville for the title role in The Flying Ace, an aviation drama with an explicit agenda of racial uplift. Criner stars as Captain Billy Stokes, a World War I hero who turns detective when the railroad paymaster goes missing. It’s a measure of The Flying Ace’s effectiveness as a tried-and-true crowd-pleaser that we don’t even care that Norman skimped on the aerial stunts, with all the flying sequences playing out against a hastily painted sky. Founded in 1920 Jacksonville, Florida’s Norman Studios was among the nation’s first to produce films starring African American characters in positive, non-stereotypical roles, contrasting the derogatory roles offered by the era’s mainstream filmmakers. The studio produced silent films featuring all-African-American casts from 1920 to 1928.