I’m reading a book about the Teapot Dome scandal, and I came across a passing mention that at the time it was against the law to transport films across state lines for commercial purposes. It’s pretty much just the one sentence, with no explanation, but it seemed like an odd law. Does anyone know the story behind this? Why would that be illegal in 1920? (The mention was about a fellow who was showing films of a particular boxing match all around the country, despite the fact that it was illegal to transport the film across state lines)
In that time period, it was illegal to transport boxing films across state lines. Looks like it was in effect from 1912 to 1940.
Why boxing films, I wonder.
That makes a bit more sense, but the book wasn’t that specific.
Possibly it’s akin to modern rules about “the rebroadcast of this event without the express written consent of Major League Baseball is prohibited” - various moneyed interests behind boxing saw the movement of films as a potential threat to their livelihood and got a law passed in their favour.
Actually, the law was passed when Jack Johnson was heavyweight champion. The fear was that films showing a black man beating up a white man would obviously cause unrest since it could make Negroes think they were as good as whites. Or that they could beat them up.
Congress, especially southern Congressman, couldn’t let that sort of thing happen.
Edited - answered above better than I did.
The law was passed in 1912, and the fight promoters were just penny ante guys at the time (boxing was probably even illegal in some states at that point) with hardly enough clout or organization to get Congress to do what they wanted.
The main impetus behind the law was racism – Jack Johnson was a threat to the Jim Crow assumptions at the time, and a lot of Jim Crow was due to fear that blacks might rise up and attack whites (a fear that goes back to the slavery days). Southerners of the time were appalled at the idea of a black heavyweight champ and were afraid it might give blacks the idea they could fight back. By banning the films, they could limit the damage and still intimidate their black population.
Here’s a New York Times article from 1921 that talks about the law and a planned prosecution: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9E01E6D91731EF33A25750C2A9619C946095D6CF&oref=slogin (you might have to register for the site to see this).
And here’s a book that talks about some interesting efforts to get around the law: http://books.google.com/books?id=ZzKR3O7C-wAC&pg=PA144&dq=sims+act&ei=xaf0SM_tI5KUM8iEwdII&client=firefox-a&sig=ACfU3U3Hr_BKQHS9yLi_RMZMPZL6PPAaFQ#PPA144,M1
Presumably the law would now be held to violate the First Amendment, and even then might have been suspect.
It certainly would be a First Amendment violation.
But in the early days, film censorship was a fact of life. Many states had censorship boards who could determine what films could be shown in that state (NY had one until the 1960s). For some reason – probably because it was new – films were considered more dangerous than books. I don’t think any court went against public opinion in this matter.
Would you have some citation from the time to indicate this. Something contemporary (from the congressional record?)would be better than a surmised rendering from a modern historian.
“Specifically, the 1912 Sims act . . . was enacted after the heavyweight champion John Arthur “Jack” Johnson, who was black, kept beating white contenders.” http://books.google.com/books?id=rKOgVk13vawC&printsec=frontcover#PPA202,M1
http://books.google.com/books?id=_XUqD7ShVIUC&pg=PA140&lpg=PA140&dq=sims+act+interstate+boxing+jack+johnson&source=web&ots=paCaBd8ncM&sig=w3c4kZwHqOWnPrOE6yxOzMw7s94&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result (to the same effect)
An interesting quote from the end of that article:
You know, with Internet research being so easy these days, I would think that if you wanted a cite you could easily find one yourself.
Here, though, is a quote from the New York Times from April 8, 1915, p. 11, in an article entitled “Fight Pictures Barred.”