Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Special Screening of the 1927 silent drama 'Are You Fit to Marry?'

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Who this event is for

  • Everyone


Phoenix Picture House, Walton Street, Oxford


Join us for a special screening of the rare and controversial eugenic propaganda film Are You Fit to Marry? (1927) at the Phoenix Picture House, Walton Street, Oxford

The edited and expanded reworking of the original 1916 "The Black Stork", this silent drama with H. Haiselden promotes his views on eugenics and euthanasia that gained a particular notoriety with the furore surrounding his 1915 trial for withholding treatment for the disabled new-born Bollinger baby while a surgeon in Chicago. There is only one surviving copy of this remarkable silent movie seeking to impress eugenic ideas and methodologies upon the wider US public, and will be of interest to anyone working on a range of topics from the history of eugenics and medical ethics, to American cinematography. The event is open to anyone interested in coming and while tickets are free spaces are limited so allocated on a first come basis.

Plot Summary:

This plot summary (spoilers!) is borrowed from Georgetown University's Bioethics Research Library

Are You Fit to Marry? The Black Stork (1927; 1916)

"Are You Fit to Marry" is a 1927 silent film that promotes eugenics. Contained within it is a re-release of a popular 1916 motion picture, "The Black Stork," adapted by W.H. Stafford from a story by Jack Lait and produced by William Randolph Hearst's International Film Service. In the framing story of "Are You Fit to Marry?," a male physician whose daughter has just announced that she is in love and plans to be married, pressures the daughter's suitor to undergo a physical examination for eugenic fitness before he (the father) will approve the marriage. The father illustrates the need for eugenic fitness by telling the story of two couples. In this inner story illustration, one couple marries despite concerns about their eugenic fitness - the tragic outcome of their marriage is told through the film "The Black Stork." This film portrays a foreordained difficult future that will come to pass when eugenic risks are not respected. The man in this couple marries despite the fact that he knows that he was conceived out of wedlock (a eugenic risk). Ultimately, in fulfillment of this predestined future, he and his wife become parents of a deformed infant delivered by "the black stork." The film, "The Black Stork," portrays the nightmarish future life awaiting this child. At the end of the film, a physician who favors allowing "defective" newborns to die convinces the initally reluctant parents that they should agree to withhold treatment from their son to allow him to die. The tale of the black stork is told from tape time 12:42 to tape time 13:15. See the book, The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of "Defective" Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915 by Martin Pernick (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) for more information about this short, silent film. The other couple portrayed in the inner story, swear their love for one another, but do not marry because the woman's mother committed suicide (another eugenic risk). The fear exists that the woman might have inherited her mother's mental illness (the "obvious" cause for suicide) and could thus pass it on to any child that she bore. Because of this concern, the couple resists the urge to marry. Fortunately, after many years, an old family friend tells the woman that it was her step-mother who committed suicide, not her biological mother. Unbeknownst to her, her biological mother had died in childbirth. The second couple now has great happiness---she is able to marry without fear of a visit from "the black stork." The second, virtuous couple is rewarded for their steadfast adherence to and respect for eugenic laws and finally are able to marry.

For Further Information See:

Martin Pernick. The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of "Defective" Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures since 1915. Oxford UP, 2000. ( Amazon, OUP Page)

Towards Establishing a Series:

Building upon this launch event, "Eugenics at the Movies" aims to organise a whole series of free cinema viewings of interwar eugenically informed feature films on public health towards opening up this rich and often overlooked cinematographic legacy of one of the twentieth century's most controversial and consequential ideologies. So if there is a particular film that you would like to suggest please do let me know.

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