“Race films” — all-black-cast, black-themed features that were shown almost exclusively in black theaters—did not shatter the worst of the racist stereotypes or halt the negative imagery that dominated American cinema in the early decades of the twentieth-century. But by directly addressing such vital issues as passing, education, discrimination, caste and social status within the race, they did offer a clear response to some of those troubling depictions in mainstream film.
Among the most influential and prolific of the early race filmmakers was Richard E. Norman, a pioneering white Southerner whose seven popular race features (produced between 1919 and 1928) emphasized the themes of racial ambition and uplift and showcased enterprising, aspiring black professionals, from bank presidents and advertising directors to doctors, detectives, and pilots.
“Norman and Early Race Filmmaking” will explore the career of this innovative film producer, who — along with his better-known contemporaries Noble and George Johnson and Oscar Micheaux — helped to write an important chapter in the history of silent cinema. Using rare film clips from Norman’s surviving films and movie stills, the presentation will confirm the significance of Norman’s cinematic legacy, shed new light on early race filmmaking, and offer compelling insights into American film, race, and culture.