Pioneers of African-American Cinema

You’ll recall just about a year ago when we alerted you to a fundraising campaign to support an ambitious restoration of early works of black cinema in the USA called "Pioneers of African American Cinema" – an effort that would showcase the works of such influential figures as Oscar Micheaux, Spencer Williams, Zora Neale Hurston, James and Eloyce Gist, and others, in a digitally-restored package of films that includes 8 feature films, several shorts, fragments of "lost" films, and rare documentary footage.

Context would be provided by videotaped interviews with film historians, performing artists, archivists, and filmmakers, who will discuss the history and enduring influence of these nearly-forgotten innovators.

A flagship project of Kickstarter’s Film Preservation and Restoration Initiative, which launched a year ago, the restoration is complete, and, thanks to Kino Lorber, "Pioneers of African-American Cinema" will be shown in special screenings at Film Forum in NYC on February 14 and 15, and on March 6 and 7.

Shadow & Act has been granted a pair of tickets for any of the above dates to give away to one lucky winner! Obviously, you need to be in New York City to take advantage of the offer. To participate, all you have to do is answer a simple related question, and submit your responses to me via email at 

The question is: Oscar Micheaux directed Paul Robeson in his feature film acting debut. What is the title of that film?

Send me your answers to by Monday, February 8th at 5pm EST. In the subject line of your emails, enter "Pioneers Contest" so that I can easily identify them. And by Monday evening, a winner will be randomly selected from all correct entries, and notified via email.

"Pioneers of African-American Cinema" is curated by Charles Musser (Yale University, co-editor of "Oscar Micheaux and His Circle: African-American Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era") and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart (University of Chicago, author of "Migrating To the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity"), who will edit a 40-page booklet of program notes.

Below you’ll find the program lineup for the Film Forum screening series:


– "The Blood of Jesus" and "Hell-Bound Train" 
"The Blood of Jesus" (1941, Spencer Williams) Shot by her husband, a young Sister travels to the proverbial crossroads, facing the Devil himself. First feature for actor/director Williams, later the Amos of TV’s Amos and Andy. "Hell-Bound Train" (c. 1931, James and Eloyce Gist) home-grown evangelical surrealism, as a horned devil works the throttle of a symbolic locomotive, amid such deadly sins as dancing, gambling, and debauchery. Silent, with recorded music by Samuel Waymon (Ganja and Hess). Restored by S. Torriano Berry for the Library of Congress. DCP restorations. 1:00 ONLY

– "Within Our Gates"
(1919, Oscar Micheaux) When a young woman (“race film” super-star Evelyn Preer) gets swept up in the Great Migration from rural South to the big city, she makes discoveries about her own identity. Micheaux’s earliest surviving feature – or of any African American director. Silent, with recorded music by D.J. Spooky. Plus "Two Knights of Vaudeville" (1916), featuring a long-forgotten Black comedy team. Silent, with recorded music by Donald Sosin. DCP restorations. 7:00 ONLY

– "Birthright" 
(1939, Oscar Micheaux) An idealistic Harvard grad returns to the segregated South to establish a grade school, encountering opposition from both races. With Ethel Moses, aka the “Black Harlow,” and a bevy of moonlighting Cotton Club dancers. Plus "Darktown Revue" (1931), Micheaux’s jaw-dropping spin on the minstrel show. DCP restorations. 1:10

– "Dirty Gertie From Harlem U.S.A."
(1946, Spencer Williams) In this unauthorized retelling of Maugham’s Rain, nightclub chantootsie Francine Everett arrives on a Caribbean island to “entertain” the GI’s and locals, inciting the wrath of a self-righteous missionary. Director Williams appears in drag as a voodoo fortuneteller – inexplicably. Restored by Southern Methodist University. Plus Williams’ recently-rediscovered HOT BISKITS (1929), comedy about a high-stakes game of mini-golf. DCP restorations. 7:00