Oscar Micheaux in action
Oscar Micheaux in action

As I stated last month about Kino Lorber’s upcoming 5-disc DVD set, “Pioneers of African American Cinema,” it is an “Historic” effort! In fact, it’s safe to say that there would be no black cinema today if it wasn’t for these films, and the filmmakers who made them.

Nearly 500 independently produced black films exclusively made for black audiences, better known as “race films,” were made in the United States between 1915 and 1952, and shown in over 1000 movie theaters across the country, though most of them are now lost due to neglect and poor preservation.

Black filmmakers such as Oscar Micheaux, Spencer Williams, Zora Neale Hurston, and James and Eloyce Gist (as well as white filmmakers) wanted to present an alternative, more realistic and honest images of African-Americans contrasting what Hollywood was presenting of black people at the time – as criminals and simple minded “layabouts” and “lecherous savages.”


Now 25 of these films have been restored and remastered, many of them on DVD for the first time, and will be released on July 26, both a blu-ray edition and standard DVD version.

But have you ever wondered what it takes to find and restore these relics of cinema? Understand that they were made totally outside the Hollywood studio system, and being black films as well, there were no efforts to preserve them. And as a result, not only are most of them lost, but many of those that did survive were in wretched shape, with some of them literately disintegrating because of the nitrate film stock, and others missing scenes, or in some cases, missing entire reels. The work to preserve and restore these films was a Herculean task to say the least.

Now Kino has released a video that was put together by the producer of the “Pioneers” set, Bret Wood, in which he explains the challenges that the film experts and restorers had in putting the films together, as well as the decisions that were made (in some instances, they intentionally did not do much restoration at all, in order to preserve the integrity of the films). It’s pretty fascinating stuff.

You can now preorder your copy of the set ahead of its July release. Click on the image below to be taken to Amazon where you can do just that.

Pioneers of African-American Cinema

Here’s the list of content that comes with the set:


Disc One (Total Running Time 282 minutes):
Two Knights of Vaudeville
Ebony Film Co., 1915. 11 minutes. Music by Donald Sosin

Mercy the Mummy Mumbled (BLU-RAY ONLY)
Ebony Film Co., 1918. 12 minutes. Music by the Alloy Orchestra.

A Reckless Rover
Ebony Film Co., 1918. 14 minutes. Music by Donald Sosin.

Within Our Gates
Oscar Micheaux, 1920. 73 minutes. Music by DJ Spooky.

The Symbol of the Unconquered: A Story of the KKK
Oscar Micheaux, 1920. 59 minutes. Music by Max Roach.

By Right of Birth
Lincoln Motion Picture Co., 1921. 4 minutes. Music by Donald Sosin.

Body and Soul
Oscar Micheaux, 1925. 93 minutes. Music by DJ Spooky.

Screen Snapshots (Micheaux footage, 1920, 1 minute)
Bonus: An Introduction (7 minutes)
Bonus: The Films of Oscar Micheaux (8 minutes)

Disc Two (Total Running Time – 259 minutes):
Richard E. Norman, 1923. 11 minutes. Music by Donald Sosin.

The Flying Ace
Richard E. Norman, 1928. 65 minutes. Music by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Ten Nights in a Bar Room
CPFC, 1926. 64 minutes. Music by Donald Sosin.

Rev. S.S. Jones Home Movies
Rev. Solomon Sir Jones, 1924-1926. 16 minutes. Music by Andrew Simpson.

The Scar of Shame
Frank Peregini, 1929. 86 minutes. Music by Makia Matsumura

Bonus: The Color Line (5 minutes)
Bonus: Ten Nights in a Bar Room – An Introduction (4 minutes)
Bonus: About the Restoration (8 minutes)

Disc Three (Total Running Time – 253 minutes):
Eleven P.M.
Richard Maurice, 1928. 60 minutes. Music by Rob Gal.

Hell-Bound Train
James and Eloyce Gist, 1930. 50 minutes.
Restored by S. Torriano Berry. Music by Samuel Waymon.

Verdict Not Guilty
James and Eloyce Gist, 1934. 8 minutes.
Restored by S. Torriano Berry. Music by Samuel Waymon.

Heaven-Bound Travels (BLU-RAY ONLY)
James and Eloyce Gist, 1935. 15 minutes.
Restored by S. Torriano Berry. Music by Samuel Waymon.

The Darktown Revue
Oscar Micheaux, 1931. 18 minutes.

The Exile
Oscar Micheaux, 1931. 78 minutes.

Hot Biskits
Spencer Williams, 1931. 10 minutes.

Disc Four (Total Running Time – 272 minutes):
The Girl from Chicago
Oscar Micheaux, 1932. 70 minutes.

Ten Minutes to Live
Oscar Micheaux, 1932. 58 minutes.

Veiled Aristocrats
Oscar Micheaux, 1932. 48 minutes.

Oscar Micheaux, 1938. 73 minutes.

Bonus: Veiled Aristocrats Trailer (4 minutes)
Bonus: Birthright Trailer (4 minutes)
Bonus: We Work Again (BLU-RAY ONLY) – WPA Documentary (1937, 15 minutes)

Disc Five (Total Running Time – 243 minutes):
The Bronze Buckaroo
Richard Kahn, 1939. 58 minutes.

Zora Neale Hurston Fieldwork Footage (excerpt)
Zora Neale Hurtston, 1928. 3 minutes.

Commandment Keeper Church, Beaufort South Carolina, May 1940 (excerpt)
Zora Neale Hurston, 1940. 15 minutes.

The Blood of Jesus
Spencer Williams, 1941. 56 minutes.

Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A.
Spencer Williams, 1946. 60 minutes.

Moses Sisters Interview
Pearl Bowser, 1978. 32 minutes.

Bonus: Texas Tyler Promo Film with Ossie Davis (1985, 6 minutes)
Bonus: The Films of Zora Neale Hurston (2 minutes)
Bonus: The Films of Spencer Williams (7 minutes)
Bonus: The End of an Era (4 minutes)