While searching through a box From the anonymous film reels of 2017, Dino Everett, a film archivist from the University of Southern California, didn’t expect to release a section of the film featuring a black couple dressed in costumes typical of vocalist performances locked in a romantic embrace. The short show, which is only 20 seconds long, showed the couple kissing, swaying and kissing again, and smiling at each other. Everett rediscovered a lost moment in film history: the William N. Short Selig in 1898 Good thing nigger kiss, The oldest known depiction of black intimacy on screen, starring Gerty Brown and Saint Satell.
In 1898, Brown and Sattle were often known as vaudeville artists and their appearance in the silent short soon quickly became a symbol of what blacks could do on screen, a departure from the caricatures and racial stereotypes that plagued cinema at the time. 19th century entertainment was filled with racist vocalist performances, with white people in a black face. Good thing This novel has upended—and is now prompting scholars and curators to rethink the beginnings of black cinema.
The 1898 short film that went viral after its rediscovery is now part of the Academy’s newer temporary exhibition of the Motion Picture, Regeneration: Black Cinema, 1898–1971. On display in Los Angeles until April 2023, renewal Takes a look at the rich history of black participation in American cinema. Good thing Where the story begins.
A team at the Academy Museum began thinking about this exhibition a little over five years ago. Raul Guzman, Associate Curator, “It was a moment for us to take stock of the responsibility we had as curators to create a new type of museum space that was more inclusive and critical.”
During one of their research trips, the team at the Academy began looking at a collection of black film posters, lobby cards, and ephemera donated by the late Edward Mabb, a writer and educator known for collecting black film memorabilia. This group was the spark that created renewal. “We just knew there was something magical about these things,” Guzman says.
Through their search, the team also found a batch of previously restored black films, among them the 1939 film reform school With Louise Beavers, a black film and television actress whose career spanned four decades. “Most people know her from life imitation,Guzmán says. “But seeing her in a role that just allows her to really show off her artistic abilities is a great thing to see.” life imitationIt was released in 1934 and was called time In 2007 as one of the “25 Hottest Movies in Race,” starring Beavers as a housekeeper. in reform school You play a reform-minded probation officer who implements drastic changes to a juvenile prison.
movies like reform school They were thought to be lost. According to the Film Foundation, more than half of films made before 1929 are lost forever due to the use of naturally combustible nitrate film stock, and the cost to restore a feature film ranges from $50,000 to $250,000.
Maya Kidd, curator of films and resident scholar at the Library of Congress, says that showing old black films allows new audiences to gain a clearer understanding of the past. Kidd is the founder of the Black Film Archive, an online catalog of Black films created between 1898 and 1989 and her work at the Library of Congress will focus on the tenderness of Black film.
Cade will also guest direct on a film series for renewal in 2023. “The exhibition gives these films a second life and allows people to learn about filmmakers like Oscar Michaux that they may not have heard of before,” she says. Michaux is seen as the first major black feature filmmaker and producer of “racial films,” films made mostly for black audiences with black actors between 1912 and 1948. “I often borrowed from Toni Morrison, who believed the past was plentiful. “There are countless things to learn from the past,” Kidd says.
Good thing nigger kiss is a clear example of that. Finding a reel of a black couple bringing intimacy on display in the 19th century was a surprise. But the biggest surprise came shortly after the movie was identified when an alternate version was discovered in Leksvik, Norway. This reel, twice as long as the first image and a mirror image, shows Brown and Sattle still kissing and swaying. Researchers at the National Library of Norway have since concluded that this Good thing It found its way to Scandinavia in 1898 by a man named Hans Kellingberg, who was returning home from a trip to the United States. As Guzmán explains, “It’s really cool to see that these films were being shared globally at the time.”
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