Pioneers of African American Cinema

Pioneers of African American Cinema

3 Seasons

Among the most fascinating chapters of cinematic history is that of the so-called “race films” that flourished in the U.S. between the 1920s and ’40s. Unlike the “black cast” films produced within the Hollywood studio system, these films not only starred African Americans but were funded, written, produced, edited, distributed, and often exhibited by people of color. Entrepreneurial filmmakers built an industry apart from the Hollywood establishment, cultivating visual and narrative styles that were uniquely their own. Among the trailblazing artists whose work is featured here are Oscar Micheaux, the first major African American feature filmmaker, whose body of work includes BODY AND SOUL, starring Paul Robeson in his film debut, and WITHIN OUR GATES; Spencer Williams, whose masterpiece THE BLOOD OF JESUS is among the most celebrated race films of the era; Zora Neale Hurston, the renowned writer who was also a pioneering ethnographic filmmaker; and James and Eloyce Gist, DIY evangelist filmmakers whose fascinating morality tales were exhibited in black churches. This landmark collection, curated by scholars Charles Musser and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart for Kino Lorber, collects an astonishing range of features, shorts, and fragments. Taken together, these vital, long-neglected works represent a rich alternative history of American cinema forged by innovative artists who defied systemic oppression to tell their own stories on-screen.

Subscribe Share
Pioneers of African American Cinema
  • Pioneers of African American Cinema Introduction

    Episode 1

    The following introduction features film scholars Jaqueline Najuma Stewart and Charles Musser, curators of "Pioneers of African American Cinema” for Kino Lorber, providing context for this landmark collection and discussing the trials and triumphs of early African American filmmakers in creating ...

  • The Films of Oscar Micheaux

    Episode 2

    Professor and film scholar Charles Musser provides an overview of the career of the radical, trailblazing black director Oscar Micheaux (whose work is featured in “Pioneers of African American Cinema”), including the reasons behind the limited accessibility to his oeuvre.

  • About the Restorations

    Episode 3

    Producer and filmmaker Bret Wood talks about the films featured in the “Pioneers of African American Cinema” collection and the various restoration processes undertaken to present them.

  • Religion in Early African American Cinema

    Episode 4

    Film scholars Jacqueline Najuma Stewart and Charles Musser discuss the significance and depiction of religion in early African American cinema, and how many films in the “Pioneers of African American Cinema” collection create a “religious feeling” often juxtaposed with stories of ministers exploi...

  • ELEVEN P.M.: An Introduction

    Episode 5

    Professor and film scholar Charles Musser situates director Richard Maurice within the “Pioneers of African American Cinema” collection and the larger story of black film, touching on Maurice’s mysterious persona and how he was influenced by fellow black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux.

  • S. Torriano Berry Discusses the Works of James and Eloyce Gist

    Episode 6

    Film historian S. Torriano Berry discusses the works of James and Eloyce Gist (featured in “Pioneers of African American Cinema”), which he’s studied for twenty years.

  • “Screen Snapshots” Footage of Oscar Micheaux

    Episode 7

    A “cinemagazine” newsreel, rediscovered in the UK, captured this brief but remarkable clip of Oscar Micheaux on the set of one of his films, probably THE BRUTE (1920), which has not survived. While Micheaux is clearly performing for the newsreel camera, the one-minute sequence nonetheless provide...

  • Tyler Texas Black Film Collection

    Episode 8

    This program, featuring comments from Ossie Davis, provides an brief introduction to the Tyler, Texas Black Film Collection of race films from the 1930s and ’40s.

  • Moses Sisters Interview

    Episode 9

    In this rare interview, shot on video in 1978 by film historian Pearl Bowser, sisters Ethel, Lucia, and Julia recount their years in African American cinema and upon the segregated variety stage.

  • The Films of Zora Neale Hurston

    Episode 10

    This introduction highlights the short films of Zora Neale Hurston, which she shot on her trips to Florida between 1927 and 1929.

  • The Films of Spencer Williams

    Episode 11

    Professor and film scholar Jaqueline Najuma Stewart appreciates director Spencer Williams and analyzes his career, specifically his films THE BLOOD OF JESUS and DIRTY GERTIE FROM HARLEM U.S.A., both of which are featured in the “Pioneers of African American Cinema” collection.


    Episode 12

  • BIRTHRIGHT Trailer

    Episode 13

  • The End of an Era

    Episode 14

    Professor and film scholar Jaqueline Najuma Stewart contextualizes the “Pioneers of African American Cinema” collection as representing a vital part of film history, and an important moment of advancement regarding African American artists and filmmakers taking a leadership role in crafting their...