Madeline Anderson
Madeline Anderson

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will screen two seminal works by pioneering filmmaker Madeline Anderson and premiere a clip from a Smithsonian-produced oral-history interview with Anderson, at the 21st American Black Film Festival (ABFF). Following the screening, Anderson will sit with Rhea Combs, the museum’s curator of photography and film, for an in-depth discussion of Anderson’s work and career.

Anderson is credited as being the first black employee at the New York-based television station WNET, the first black woman to produce and direct a televised documentary film, the first black woman to produce and direct a syndicated television series, and one of the first black women to join the film editor’s union. Anderson became the in-house producer/director for “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company” for the Children’s Television Workshop. During the early 1970s, she helped create WHMM-TV (now WHUT-TV) at Howard University.

The two seminal films that will screen at ABFF are:

— “Integration Report 1” (1960) chronicles the events around the country leading up to the first attempt at a march on Washington.

— “I Am Somebody” (1970) tells the story of 400 African American women who, as hospital workers in Charleston, S.C., went on strike in 1969 to demand fair pay and unionization. After confrontations with the National Guard and state government, the women won the support of Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King, and civil rights activists Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young.

Anderson worked entirely outside the Hollywood system, which she was critical of – notably of films that depicted the African American experience but weren’t made by African Americans. As a filmmaker, she was never particularly interested in pursuing a career in Hollywood because she didn’t believe she would be able to push her more socially conscious goals and aspirations. She even reportedly turned down a directing job from Universal because she simply was not interested.

When asked if she thought independent production and distribution outside the Hollywood system was viable, Anderson responded: “I think it’s viable artistically. In terms of business, I don’t think it’s moved as well as it should have. I think people shy away from the kinds of films we make outside the Hollywood system. There is a real change in the filmmaking world now. People tend to devalue films made outside Hollywood−more so in our community than others. We don’t seem to have a real art community yet, but it’s growing.” (From “Reel Black Talk : A Sourcebook of 50 American Filmmakers”).

In addition to the above films that will screen at ABFF, Anderson’s credits also include:

— “The Cool World” (1964): Assistant Director/Assistant Editor
— “Malcolm X: Nationalist or Humanist?” (1967): Producer/Director
— “I Am Somebody” (1970): Producer/Director/Editor/Writer
— “The Walls Came Tumbling Down” (1975): Producer/Director/Editor
— “The Infinity Factory” (series, 1978): Executive Producer
— “Al Manahil” (series, 1987): Senior Producer/Writer

A complete ABFF festival schedule and information about purchasing passes, tickets for events, panels and screenings at ABFF are available at