Silent 'race' films
This is the third and last instalment of reports of last year’s Black Art Summer.
The year 2017 was a great one for art generated from Black culture. The Centre Stage exhibit at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, curated by Tyree Boyd-Pates, was a concise look at very early Black film in America.
What is so significant is the number of black filmmakers active just after the turn of the century. They made what were called ‘race films’.
It was commonly believed that before the 1970s there were no films made by and for African Americans. The possible exception we were told was Oscar Micheaux, but even his cinematic contributions were belittled in many popular discourses on the subject.
Micheaux’s work is here in this show and extraordinarily beautiful it is. However this exhibition also uncovered a treasure of other Black filmmakers, several of them women. The long list of filmmakers and stars included Eve Mason, Evelyn Preer, Sylvia Landry, Henry Grant and Spencer Williams.
The exhibition showed how all of these artists painted the early twentieth-century African American experience. The films display a fantastic depth of celluloid vision and aptitude. From the phantasmagoric images of The Blood of Jesus or Son of Ingagi to the social realism of The Symbol of The Unconquered, we find an overflowing of creativity and imagination united to an irrepressible sense of spirit and talent.
Very entertaining, but more than that these films reveal a hidden and meaningful Black world.