African-American Women in the Silent Film Industry
In the first decades of the twentieth century, five African-American women filmmakers helped to establish the US cinema industry and to better the representation of African-Americans on film. Hailing from different regions of the country, from Kansas City, Missouri, to Montclair, New Jersey, to Washington DC, they were geographically separated but united by a belief that the motion picture was socially transformative. Some tried to make a living for a short time from their film work while others seemed to have made one motion picture and disappeared from the field altogether. These women wanted to present a vision of the life of African Americans that was authentic, and in attempting this they were often entrepreneurial, arranging theatrical exhibition and distribution or taking film prints directly to audiences themselves in order to reach more communities. Apart from their risk-taking and trailblazing, their efforts to shift the prevailing view of African Americans is what binds them, marking their achievements as emblematic of a movement to establish the validity of the lives of African Americans. While the recent wave of interest in African-American director-producer Oscar Micheaux and the “race movie” makers of his time has helped to confirm and affirm the existence of black independent filmmakers in the silent era, the resulting research largely uncovered only the men involved.
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