It’s amazing when hidden treasures and gems are discovered! The New York Times reported that what may be the earliest surviving film with a Black cast, made in 1913, was found in the film archives of the Museum of Modern Art.
The New York Times wrote:
It is a rare visual depiction of middle-class black characters from an era when lynchings and stereotyped black images were commonplace. What’s more, the material features Bert Williams, the first black superstar on Broadway. Williams appears in blackface in the untitled silent film along with a roster of actors from the sparsely documented community of black performers in Harlem on the cusp of the Harlem Renaissance. Remarkably, the reels also capture behind-the-scenes interactions between these performers and the directors.
MoMA plans an exhibition around the work called “100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History,” which is to open on Oct. 24 and showcase excerpts and still frames. Sixty minutes of restored footage will be shown on Nov. 8 in the museum’s annual To Save and Project festival dedicated to film preservation.
The 35-millimeter footage was the raw material for a romantic comedy that would have run an estimated 35 to 40 minutes with titles. In it, Williams vies with two other suitors for an elegant lady, played by Odessa Warren Grey. Featuring domestic scenes, gatherings at a social club and a carefree day at a fair, the film has some racial stereotypes but also gives a glimpse of everyday activities.
The movie contains other gems. An elaborately staged ball scene in which the cast performs the Cakewalk is the longest early record of black vernacular dance on film, the curators said. Even the kiss between Williams and Grey could mark a first example of such affection for black characters on film, said Ronald S. Magliozzi, the organizer of the exhibition and an associate curator in MoMA’s film department.
How wonderful is it that a fantastic piece of history has been uncovered that not only gives us a small glimpse of Black life at the time, but also shows our contributions to the nascent film industry?
Get more of the story here.