Digital Humanities Students’ Work on Silent Films Leads to Exhibition at California African American Museum

Published: July 21, 2017
Website and database they built sparked curator’s show about African-American women in silent race films

Jessica Wolf | 

The meticulous work of UCLA digital humanities students who shone a light on the hidden history of black filmmakers and artists from the silent era has inspired a new exhibition at the California African American Museum in Exposition Park.

When Tyree Boyd-Pates, history curator and program manager came across a UCLA Newsroom article about the “Early African American Film: Reconstructing the History of Silent Race Films, 1909–1930” project, it sparked the idea for the exhibition titled “Center Stage: African American Women in Silent Race Films.”

“Curatorially I am a big proponent of black history and culture so I am always trying to keep abreast of gainful strides that universities are doing to illuminate much of black history that remains unknown or unseen,” he said. “When I caught wind of the story, I was very excited because it met the criteria of a lot of areas that I feel are necessary for public consumption of black history that aren’t always told.”

The exhibition, which opened June 28 and runs through Oct. 15, includes a looped screening of several films from the era that feature black actresses in major roles — including Oscar Micheaux’s “Within Our Gates” (1920) and “The Symbol of the Unconquered” (1920), extant clips from Lincoln Picture Company’s “By Right of Birth” (1921, directed by Harry Grant), “The Scar of Shame” (1929), The Blood of Jesus (1941, directed by Spencer Williams) and others.

Posters and marketing materials from the era will also be on display, alongside an essay written in collaboration between Boyd-Pates and students from the UCLA project.

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