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The rise of cinema as the predominant American entertainment around the turn of the last century coincided with the migration of hundreds of thousands of African Americans from the South to the urban "land of hope" in the North. This richly illustrated book, discussing many early films and illuminating black urban life in this period, is the first detailed look at the numerous early relationships between African Americans and cinema. It investigates African American migrations onto the screen, into the audience, and behind the camera, showing that African American urban populations and cinema shaped each other in powerful ways.
Focusing on Black film culture in Chicago during the silent era, Migrating to the Movies begins with the earliest cinematic representations of African Americans and concludes with the silent films of Oscar Micheaux and other early "race films" made for Black audiences, discussing some of the extraordinary ways in which African Americans staked their claim in cinema's development as an art and a cultural institution.
List of Illustrations
Introduction A Nigger in the Woodpile: Black (
In)Visibility in Film History
Part One: Onto the Screen
Chapter 1. "To Misrepresent a Helpless Race": The Black Image Problem
Chapter 2. Mixed Colors: Riddles of Blackness in Preclassical Cinema
Into the Audience
Chapter 3. "Negroes Laughing at Themselves"? Black Spectatorship and the Performance of Urban Modernity
Chapter 4. "Some Thing to See Up Here All the Time": Moviegoing and Black Urban Leisure in Chicago
Chapter 5. Along the "Stroll": Chicago’s Black Belt Movie Theaters
Part Three: Behind the Camera
Chapter 6. Reckless Rovers versus Ambitious Negroes: Migration, Patriotism, and the Politics of Genre in Early African American Filmmaking
Chapter 7 "We Were Never Immigrants": Oscar Micheaux and the Reconstruction of Black American Identity
Posted November 28, 2005
This book differs from most studies of African Americans and cinema because it ends where others usually begin: with the prolific Oscar Micheaux, who made more than 40 ¿race¿ films between 1917 and 1948. Exploring cinema during the ¿preclassical¿ era (ie before it became codified and centralized in Hollywood) the author argues that the Great Migration and cinema shaped each other in powerful ways. The study focuses on Chicago¿s ¿Black Belt,¿ the birthplace of African American cinema and at the time, a center of thriving black entrepreneurship, entertainment culture and political activism as well as home to country¿s most widely-regarded race newspaper, The Chicago Defender. The first section of the book considers how the Great Migration was registered and reflected in dominant cinema, including educational films and travelogues. The second section describes African Americans as spectators and critics. The third section explores how African American filmmakers attempted to comment on cinema and to build and profit from developing black consumer cultures. I found the first chapter of the book, which establishes the theoretical framework, rather daunting...the author herself calls it ¿discursive¿ in the first sentence of the next chapter. But after that point, academics and general readers alike will find this to be a fascinating exploration of early cinema and race relations, with implications still reverberating today. For example, while discussing images of blackness and stereotypes, she notes that when white filmgoers saw a black person carrying a chicken or a watermelon, they knew without further explanation that the item had been stolen. This instantly called to mind media coverage of Hurricane Katrina, when photo captions portrayed black people as ¿looting¿ whereas white people were ¿finding supplies.¿ The book is generously illustrated with 56 rare film images. I recommend it to anyone interested in film or ethnic studies, but also to anyone interested in Chicago¿s historic Black Belt.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.