Monday, December 26, 2016

MOVIE HISTORY - America's First Black Filmmakers

"Preserving the history of America's first black filmmakers" PBS NewsHour 12/25/2016


SUMMARY:  In the early part of the 20th century, black filmmakers were forced to work outside the white Hollywood mainstream -- and produced around 500 films, mainly for black audiences.  To preserve this history, the company Kino Lorber released a five-disc collection this year containing 20 hours of these films.  Executive producer Paul Miller joins NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Karla Murthy.

KARLA MURTHY, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND:  In the early part of 20th century, with racial segregation still in place in much of the U.S., black filmmakers made movies for black audiences, outside the white Hollywood mainstream.  They produced around 500 so-called “race films,” but most are lost to history.

To preserve America's first “independent” cinema, this year, the company Kino Lorber released a five disc collection combining 20 hours of these films called The Pioneers of African-American Cinema.

The collection of 16 feature films and shorts — mainly from the 1920s and 30s — includes comedies, dramas, and documentaries.  They not only starred black actors, the films were often written, directed, and produced by [black]-Americans.

Executive Producer Paul Miller, a musician also known as DJ Spooky, raised money for the project initially through a Kickstarter campaign.

PAUL MILLER, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF THE PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA:  We helped them raise a little bit under maybe $100,000 just, (snaps) you know, in like a week and some change.  And I love to think of it as a festival in a box.

KARLA MURTHY:  So the New York Times called this project– this is what it said about it, “From the perspective of cinema history, and American history for that matter, there has never been a more significant video release than Pioneers of African American Cinema."  So why is this collection so significant?

PAUL MILLER:  Well, the interesting thing about American history is we have what I call selective amnesia.  And Americans love to forget.  Like, people, what Korean War?  Did we ever occupy the Philippines?  So putting the box set together was kind of a situation of reclaiming these hidden histories of very positive, and pro what I call multicultural visions of this history of American cinema, which is usually again very white white-washed.

KARLA MURTHY:  How revolutionary was it at that time that these films were actually able to get made and seen?

PAUL MILLER:  You've got to remember it was incredible that African-Americans saw themselves on the screen.  Usually most portrayals of African-Americans in the larger white culture were meant to be very derogatory.  So by reclaiming that space in the culture you could show positive images of black people outside of the white context.

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