Black filmmaking’s power and impact on culture gets the spotlight with Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971, a new exhibition that showcases seven decades of rare photographs, costumes, props, posters and much more at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Accompanying this important deep dive, the museum is also providing a screening series the important films themselves, all of which explore, reflect, and depict the African-American experience.
This expansive multi-media presentation aims to open up viewers’ understanding of Black film history in the United States, celebrating works that emerged both within and outside of the Hollywood studio system.
The screening series begins with the world-premiere of a formerly thought “lost”movie and ends with the most groundbreaking works by iconic influencers such as Melvin Van Peebles. In between, the experience explores a 70 year span that goes back to the birth of film as a whole and shows how it inspired independent storytelling by people of color, which later led to the blaxploitation genre, and so much more.
From Oscar Micheaux’s engaging dramatic work to that of Spencer Williams (Andy from Amos & Andy) to Peebles’ undeniably influential creations, the series aims to make larger statements about society, inequality and humanity. Screen legends such as Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, and Lena Horne get due reverence and a host unknowns are brought to the forefront providing diverse exploration that’ll make you think about American culture and racial division a whole new light.
Regeneration: Black Cinema, 1898–1971 is a new standing exhibit and the screening series hopes to compliment it in a thought provoking way, as curator Benardo Rondeau hopes, deepening and expanding its meaning. “It is incredible to be able to present films that have not been seen in decades,” he notes in press materials. “I am thankful to our partners, especially the Academy Film Archive for their tremendous efforts in rediscovering and restoring a number of these films making them available like never before to new audiences.”
The inaugural film series (which runs thru the end of September) is just the beginning for Regeneration, too. The museum plans to launch additional programming and screenings in early 2023 including world premieres of films newly restored by the Academy Film Archive.
This week’s debut of 1939’s Reform School (which was long thought lost) shows the archive’s restoration achievements in impressive fashion. Produced by Million Dollar Productions– a company that distributed films for Black audiences in the early days of cinema– it stars Louise Beavers as a probation officer who comes to the defense of a young man, unjustly mistreated at a reform school. It was restored in 2020 by the Archive with funding help from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971 exhibit and screening at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, 6067 Wilshire Blvd. Reform School premiere screening on Thurs., Aug. 25; full screening schedule at academymuseum.org
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