This essay examines the making of the independent (and no longer extant) film Once Upon a Time (1922), which was produced, directed, and written by Coconut Grove, Florida, resident Ruth Bryan Owen. As a historical and cultural prism, the film grants us a unique view of Owen as an independent filmmaker and someone who, in the late 1920s, would become the first woman elected to the US Congress from the Southern states. It also offers insights into Coconut Grove and Miami as a dynamically charged field of gender, race, and class relations during the early 1920s. For Owen, these years were filled with personal transformation as well as turmoil. South Florida was witnessing exciting changes as well as rising political tensions and strife. Proposed as a one-of-a-kind “community motion picture,” the Arabian Nights tale signaled the dawning of an active Southern Women's Club movement. In this essay, the film serves as a lens—a historical opportunity—to examine a set of social relations and the women's efforts to better their political conditions (and curb local white patriarchal corporate interests) in association with the activities and struggles of the racially segregated neighborhoods the women purported to represent.

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