African American Cinema in the Early 20th Century

In the period after World War I, up till the 1940s, the genre of “race films” emerged. These were films that starred African American actors, and were funded, written, produced, edited, distributed, and watched by African Americans. This separate industry provided positive, complex roles for black actors instead of the heavily stereotyped roles provided by Hollywood. Additionally, as Jacqueline Stewart, a film professor at the Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 5.33.17 PMUniversity of Chicago, explains, these films addressed key issues within the black community such as “the politics of skin color within the black community, gender differences, class differences, regional differences especially during this period of the Great Migration.” This fascinating genre built a distinct style of narration, and influenced the tradition of black cinema for decades.

Check out “Pioneers of African-American Cinema” from the library, a restored collection of films from this time period. It includes work from important figures such as Oscar Micheaux and Zora Neale Hurston (author of Their Eyes Were Watching God).

From Blackface to Blaxploitation: Representations of African Americans in Film at Duke University
Restored ‘Race Films’ Find New Audiences on Code Switch from NPR
Race Film, Wikipedia Article

by Arushi G. ’18


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