By Cassandra Geraghty @ayearofsilents
It is nearly impossible to find information on actress Iris Hall except that she starred in two early “race films” – one of which has been lost.
Born in Barbados in 1892, Iris and her family relocated to the United States when she was thirteen. She worked as a dancer, singer and beautician in Harlem, New York, which is where she most likely met Oscar Micheaux. Micheaux was a prolific African-American writer, producer and director credited with making some of the first and most highly-regarded “race films” during the silent film era. Harlem is said to have been where Micheaux discovered another one of his actresses, Evelyn Preer, in the same time frame.
In 1919, Iris Hall starred in Micheaux’s first film, “The Homesteader,” alongside Preer and Charles D. Lucas. In the plot of this now-lost film, Iris’ character’s light complexion causes confusion with a love interest (Lucas, an African American) who believes she is a white woman, although she is actually biracial.
Believing a union between the two to be illegal, Lucas meets a woman of his own race (Preer) and they marry, albeit ultimately unhappily. Lucas is eventually chased off by his wife and returns to Iris, only to discover the truth about her ethnicity. They live happily ever after.
In her second film,1920s “Symbol of the Unconquered,” Iris plays Eve Mason, a character whose light complexion once again causes confusion with a gentleman (Hugh Van Allen played by Walker Thompson). Thinking she is white, and therefore not a plausible romantic partner, they have an amicable friendship. When she alerts him to an impending attack by the Klu Klux Klan, the townspeople are able to defeat the angry klansmen. At the end of the film, Van Allen learns that Eve is actually of the same race and the two embrace, happy that they can finally be together.
Little is known about Iris Hall after her second film, although she does not seem to appear in any more of Oscar Micheaux’s forty films. She married twice, in 1920 and 1927 and had two children. She also performed in two Broadway comedies, “Three Men on a Horse” in 1942 and “Try and Get It” in 1943. After that there is no information, except that she passed away in 1984 at 91. It’s a shame that such a promising life can be summed up in only a few lines.