Though little known, Ouanga is notable as supposedly only the second movie (after White Zombie) to feature zombies. It also deals with interracial love, the notion of “passing,” and the supposedly inherent fiery lustfulness of black native women. As the poster proclaims: “Meet Clelie…naive…young and beautiful…lithe, yielding, and primitive, love-hungry child of the tropics!”
Clelie (Fredi Washington, who had done the whole “passing” thing in 1934’s Imitation of Life) is in fact a black Haitian plantation owner — hardly “primitive,” and so well-spoken! — who moonlights as a voodoo priestess. She falls in love with a white American named Adam (Philip Brandon) when he comes to Haiti for two years to oversee his father’s plantation, which neighbors Clelie’s. He apparently returned her affection while he was in the mood for gettin’ freaky, but now that he’s ready to settle down, he ships in his white fiancee, Eve (Marie Paxton) — OHNOHEDI’UNT! (Incidentally, yes, that’s Adam and Eve.)
Clelie doesn’t take this lying down, however. She takes it ON HER KNEES, begging Adam to take her back in one embarrassing scene after another:
CLELIE: “You belong to me, Adam, and no one else but me!”
ADAM: “No, Cle, you belong with your kind.”
CLELIE: “But I ask for so little; only to be with you. Oh, I’ll be your slave, anything!”
CLELIE: “Oh, I’m crazy, mad about you. Forget this girl. What has she got that I haven’t got? Look at me. Am I not as beautiful? As white?”
ADAM: “It’s no use, Clelie.”
CLELIE: (Falling to her knees.) “Oh no, no, Adam, please. Don’t go away from me as if I were a black wench in your field!” (He pries her off of his leg and walks away.)
Adam’s black plantation overseer LeStrange (?!?), played by the VERY white Sheldon Leonard, loves Clelie and expresses his desire that she knock off this interracial tomfoolery in this unintentionally hilarious exchange:
LESTRANGE: “He’s going to marry Miss Langley. She’s his kind. She’s white.”
CLELIE: “You think so? I’m white too, as white as she is.”
LESTRANGE: “You’re not! You’re black.”
CLELIE: “Black am I? Is this black?” (She touches her face.) “Or these?” (She holds out her hands.) “Or this?” (She tears open her shirt to show her cleavage.)
LESTRANGE: “Clelie, forget this madness. Your white skin doesn’t change what’s inside you. You’re black, you hear me? You’re black! You belong to us! To me!”
(He grabs and kisses her, and at first she relents, but eventually she realizes that she shouldn’t have to settle for a “black” — ahem — man. She pushes him away.)
CLELIE: “I hate you, you black scum!”
Eventually, though, after being beaten down enough by Adam’s rejections, Clelie admits to LeStrange, “You’re right. He hates me. He despises me. I’m trash to him. Good-for-nothing trash. Black trash.” Still, though, she rejects LeStrange’s advances and vows revenge: “I’ll show him what a black girl can do!”
This revenge comes in the form of a ouanga (pronounced “wanga”), a voodoo charm meant to curse Eve. When that’s discovered, though, Clelie resorts to Plan B: she raises two zombies and has them kidnap Eve and take her as a sacrifice in a voodoo ceremony. (This scene provides another great line, as Eve’s mother screams, “I came out of the house just in time to see two hulking Negroes making away with Eve!”)
The heroic “Negro” LeStrange tries to stop Clelie, but she shoots him. Injured, he still manages to save the day by stealing Clelie’s protection ouanga and setting it on fire. She runs off into the jungle, where he follows her and heroically (?) strangles her to death.
Amidst all this hubbub is a pair of (dark-skinned) black servants, Jackson (Sidney Easton) and Susie (Babe Joyce), who serve as comic relief. Susie has the hots for Jackson and accepts Clelie’s offer to make him fall for her (which brings up the question, if it’s so easy, why doesn’t she use that mojo on Adam?). However, in exchange, Susie must help Clelie in her plot for revenge. Susie is superstitious and afraid of anything voodoo-related — “Is you a voodoo?” she exclaims wide-eyed to Clelie — making her a rare black female comedic “spook” stereotype. Jackson, meanwhile, loves to play dice. ‘Nuff said.
The moral of the story is, of course, “Stick to your own kind!” Luckily, Ouanga was hardly seen in the US, allowing for generations of miscegenation to go unchecked and blessing us with stars like Vin Diesel, Mariah Carey, The Rock and Justin Guarini. Hmm, maybe those filmmakers were on to something after all…
Although originally scheduled to film in Haiti, production on Ouanga had to move to Jamaica when locals expressed hostility at the idea of having voodoo exploited for cheap thrills. Go figure. The all-black remake The Devil’s Daughter was made in 1939, removing the interracial storyline and thus making it all the more pointless.