Martin Eden is a successful African-American farmer in South Dakota. He is in love with Deborah Stewart, but he believes that she is white and that she would not be interested in him. He is unaware that Deborah also loves him. Martin goes to Chicago to seek out a wife. After an unsuccessful date with a cabaret singer, he reconnects with an ex-girlfriend who introduces him to Linda. They fall in love and marry, and then return to Martin’s farm. The couple become parents, but their happiness is short-lived when Linda’s pathologically jealous father convinces her that Martin is homicidal. She flees the farm with their child and returns to Chicago. Martin tracks her down in the city, but Martin is shot by Linda during a fight. In South Dakota, Deborah discovers she is African-American. She travels to Chicago and meets Linda, who agrees to divorce Martin so he can marry Deborah. Linda also gives her child to Deborah to raise. Martin and Deborah return to South Dakota and Linda kills her father in revenge for his role in destroying her marriage.
- William Byrd as Jack Stewart
- Leroy Collins as Martin Eden
- Verlie Cowan as Linda
- Frances De Young as Mrs. Bowles
- Vernon B. Duncan as Duval
- Edward Fraction as Nelson Boudreaux
- Harris Gaines as Dr. Lee
- Jessie Johnson as Preble
- Barbara Lee as Jessie
- Yvonne Machen as Terry
- Arthur McCoo as Joe Bowles
- Vernetties Moore as Eunice
- Alice B. Russell as Aunt Mary
- Myra Stanton as Deborah
- Lou Vernon as Ned Washington
The Betrayal was adapted by Micheaux from his novel The Wind From Nowhere (1943), although the plot regarding racial identities in rural South Dakota was borrowed from The Homesteader (1919), Micheaux’ first film. The Betrayal marked Micheaux’ return to filmmaking after an eight-year absence following the release of The Notorious Elinor Lee (1940).
Micheaux named his male lead Martin Eden in honor of the eponymous hero of the Jack London novel. Leroy Collins, a non-professional actor, was cast in the role when he came to the Chicago set seeking work as a stagehand and was spotted by one of Micheaux’ assistants. This was Collins’ first and only film appearance. Collins is now a retired Chicago Public Schools administrator.
Myra Stanton, who played the role of Deborah Stewart, had modeled since the age of five. She had appeared in Ebony magazine in her teenage years and had only acted in school plays when Micheaux's wife, Alice B. Russell, called Stanton's mother with an invitation to audition for the film. Collins and Stanton fell in love during the filming and married soon after the film was done. The couple divorced four years later. Stanton is now a retired teacher.
The Betrayal was the first race film to have its premiere in a Broadway venue in New York City, with reserved-seat screenings at the Mansfield Theatre. Reviews of the film were overwhelmingly negative, with The New York Times complaining of "sporadically poor photography and consistently amateurish performances" within a story that "contemplates at considerable length the relations between Negroes and whites as members of the community as well as partners in marriage." Box Office also panned the film, noting "sincerity of purpose is perhaps the only redeeming feature of this all-Negro feature." The African-American media was also hostile, with the Chicago Defender criticizing the film as "a preposterous, tasteless bore".
The Betrayal was the last film directed by Micheaux, who died in 1951. No print of The Betrayal is known to exist, and it is considered a lost film, although the script can be found in the New York State Archives (Motion Picture Scripts Collection) in Albany, New York.
- Gevinson, Alan, Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911–1960, American Film Institute, 1997, p. 86.
- "Oscar Micheaux Biography" Archived 2008-10-20 at the Wayback Machine, Producers Guild of America.
- "Before Hollywood, There Was Fort Lee...", Fort Lee Film Commission.
- McGilligan, Patrick, "A memorable summer school", Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2003.
- Borrelli, Christopher (February 6, 2013). "Oscar Micheaux: A legend's links". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 17, 2015.
- T. M. P., "First All-Negro Film at Mansfield", The New York Times, June 26, 1948.
- "The Betrayal", Box Office, August 28, 1948.
- Moos, Dan (Autumn 2002). "Reclaiming the Frontier: Oscar Micheaux as Black Turnerian — Critical Essay". African American Review. Saint Louis University. 36 (3): 357–381. doi:10.2307/1512202. JSTOR 1512202. (HighBream subscription required)