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Snippets of the song "Rootity-Toot, She Plays the Flute" and "Home, Sweet, Home" are heard in this film. According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA collection at the AMPAS Library, the miscegenation element of Leon Gordon's story caused great censorship difficulties, beginning with the U.S. distribution of a 1929 British screen adaptation of his play, also entitled White Cargo. As noted in articles included in the MPAA/PCA files, in accordance with the MPPA's 1924 agreement of self-imposed censorship, MPPA head Will Hays deemed the play unacceptable material for screen adaptation and effectively banned any studios from producing it. [In the play, "Tondelayo" is described throughout as a "negress."] The March 1930 New York release of the British film, which was directed by J. B. Williams and Arthur Barnes and starred Leslie Faber and Gypsy Rhouma, generated complaints from industry insiders, who felt that its distribution in the U.S. violated the spirit of Hays's decree.
In 1938, when producer Val Lewton, then with Selznick-International, inquired about making an American screen version, the PCA advised him that Gordon's play was still on the "condemned list" and would have to be "put through the formula" before it could be approved. Lewton apparently dropped the idea, but in October 1941, M-G-M hired Gordon to adapt his play and submitted a draft to the PCA. The PCA informed M-G-M that while "improvements" had been made over the play, problems still existed in the screenplay, specifically the fact that news of Tondelayo's non-black parentage is withheld from the audience until the end, giving "most of the picture the flavor of miscegenation." In November 1941, however, a revised draft of the script was deemed acceptable, with the stipulation that Tondelayo's presumed black parentage not be mentioned at all in the dialogue.
White Cargo marked Bramwell Fletcher's return to the screen after a seven-year absence. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, credited dance director Ernst Matray worked with his wife Maria on the film. Although Hollywood Reporter news items list The Islanders as cast members, their appearance in the final film is doubtful. Marvel Maxwell also was announced in the cast, but his appearance in the final film cannot be confirmed. New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther named White Cargo one of the ten worst films of 1942. According to PCA records, the Legion of Decency placed the picture in its "C" or condemned class, and the film was banned in Singapore and Trinidad because of its "racial implications" and "taboo relationship." The Burma (now Myanmar) board of censors banned the film because of its portrayal of "racial hatred." The scene in which Hedy Lamarr first appears and utters the line, "I am Tondelayo" has been included in documentaries on memorable moments from motion pictures.