Sanders of the River


Leslie Banks stars as the title character, a British officer who manages to keep the peace between the African tribes loyal to His Majesty and those loyal to the African king. His right-hand man, one of the tribal leaders, played by Paul Robeson, does all he can to help Banks maintain the peace, but when Banks takes a trip away from the region, all hell breaks loose.

Sanders of the River is a 1935 British film directed by the Hungarian-British director, Zoltán Korda, based on the stories of Edgar Wallace. It is set in Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. The lead Nigerian characters were played by African Americans, Paul Robeson and Nina Mae McKinney.


Sanders (Leslie Banks) is a British colonial District Commissioner (British Colonial) in Colonial Nigeria. He tries to rule his province fairly, including the various tribes comprising the Peoples of the River. He is regarded with respect by some and with fear by others, among whom he is erred to as "Sandi" and "Lord Sandi". He has an ally in Bosambo, a literate and educated chief (played by the American actor, Paul Robeson).
When Sanders goes on leave, another chief, King Mofolaba, spreads the rumour that "Sandi is dead." Intertribal war seems inevitable, and the situation is made worse by gun-runners and slavers.
His relief, Lord Ferguson, is unequal to the task. Sanders returns to restore peace. When Bosambo's wife Lilongo (Nina Mae McKinney) is kidnapped, the chief tracks down her kidnappers. Captured by them, he is saved by a relief force commanded by Sanders. Bosambo kills King Mofolaba in retaliation for his wife's kidnapping.


  • Leslie Banks as Commissioner R.G. Sanders
  • Paul Robeson as Bosambo
  • Nina Mae McKinney as Lilongo
  • Martin Walker (actor) as J. Ferguson
  • Robert Cochran as Lieutenant Tibbets (as Robert Cochrane)
  • Richard Grey as Captain Hamilton
  • Toto Ware as King Mofolaba
  • Marqués De Portago as Farini
  • Eric Maturin as Smith
  • Allan Jeayes as Father O'Leary
  • Charles Carson (actor) as Sir John
  • Jomo Kenyatta as Tribal Leader

Paul Robeson disowns the film

The African-American singer and actor Paul Robeson, a civil rights activist, accepted the role of Bosambo while living in London. At the time, he was studying the roots of pan-African culture through studies of language and music. He felt that if he could portray the Nigerian leader, Bosambo, with cultural accuracy and dignity, he could help audiences—especially Black audiences—to understand and respect the roots of Black culture. He took the role on the condition that the film would portray Africans positively.
The filmmakers took an unusual step towards authenticity by sending a film crew on a four-month voyage into remote areas of the African continent. They recorded traditional African dances and ceremonies, with the intention of using this footage integrated with scenes shot in the studio that included the future President and Prime Minister of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta as one of the film extra.
In 1963 producer Harry Alan Towers made a German/British international co-production small scale version of the film, Death Drums Along the River set in the modern day only using some of the names of the characters.

Category:1935 films
Category:1930s adventure films
Category:1930s drama films
Category:Black-and-white films
Category:British films
Category:English-language films
Category:Films about race and ethnicity
Category:Films directed by Zoltán Korda
Category:Films set in Nigeria
Category:Films set in the British Empire
Category:Films based on works by Edgar Wallace
Category:Paul Robeson
Alexander Korda

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