Monday, July 21, 2008

Jacqueline Trescott on US Postal Service's New Issue: Black Film History Stamps

From yesterday's Washington Post:
The earliest poster is of "Sport," the story of a woman who moves to that naughty New York after her husband goes to prison for a crime he didn't commit. The stars were Edward R. Abrams and Elizabeth Boyer. The silent movie was based on a novel by poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and was made by the Reol Motion Picture Corp., a white-owned company.

"Sport" was only one of hundreds of films made about black subjects in the early years of cinema. The films were entertainment but also had a purpose. "Between 1912 and 1929, these movies were made exclusively by independents, some black and some white. They offered sharply different portrayals of blacks than you would find in Hollywood films of the time. They were lawyers, cowboys. If there were African American characters in the Hollywood films, they were secondary and servile," says Gerald R. Butters Jr., dean of general education at Aurora University in Illinois, who has written on film history.