Richard E. Norman and Race Filmmaking

Richard E. Norman and Race Filmmaking

Richard E. Norman and Race Filmmaking

Richard E. Norman and Race Filmmaking

Synopsis

In the early 1900s, so-called race filmmakers set out to produce black-oriented pictures to counteract the racist caricatures that had dominated cinema from its inception. Richard E. Norman, a southern-born white filmmaker, was one such pioneer. From humble beginnings as a roving "home talent" filmmaker, recreating photoplays that starred local citizens, Norman would go on to produce high-quality feature-length race pictures. Together with his better-known contemporaries Oscar Micheaux and Noble and George Johnson, Richard E. Norman helped to define early race filmmaking. Making use of unique archival resources, including Norman's personal and professional correspondence, detailed distribution records, and newly discovered original shooting scripts, this book offers a vibrant portrait of race in early cinema.

Excerpt

BY MICHAEL T. MARTIN

THE TURN OF the nineteenth century into the twentieth marked a period of political upheaval and indeterminacy in the United States and world. Correspondingly, it gave rise to artistic and cultural renewal and invention, and it was the formative cinematic moment in the long history and struggle for black representation. Prefigured by defining cultural precedents of racial disparagement, reductive and demeaning archetypes were first evinced in literature, popular lore, minstrels, encyclopedic entries endorsed by the scientific community, illustrations in venerated national digests, and the ramblings and rants that passed for raced discourses of the day. These memorialized artifacts of popularized beliefs in the cultural marketplace of the early twentieth century framed debates about the “Negro problem” during the era of mass entertainment and “public amusements” and endure to this day in the national psyche; however many presumptions of a post-racial America suggest otherwise.

In counterpoint, consider that from 1909 to 1948 more than 150 independent companies endeavored to make, distribute, and exhibit race movies—that distinctive aggregate of films crossing all manner of genres and that, oriented to and shown largely in segregated movie theaters, featured all-black casts. Ironically a palliative to Jim Crow and an implicit . . .

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