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Center Stage: African American Women in Silent Race Films

In collaboration with the UCLA Digital Humanities Department, CAAM presents Center Stage, an exhibition that considers pioneering African American filmmakers and production companies in the early 20th century that provided African American women the opportunity to participate in front of, and behind, the camera. They challenged disparaging portrayals of black women in Hollywood, and instead conveyed their wit, intelligence, and talent for largely black audiences to admire and emulate.

Produced for American audiences between 1910 and 1950, these motion pictures were commonly called race films. CAAM will screen several rarely seen examples, 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, dir. Harry Grant), The Scar of Shame (1929), The Blood of Jesus (1941, dir. Spencer Williams), and others. Each film features women protagonists and captures the spirit of entrepreneurship and African American upliftment characteristic of race films from this era.

This exhibition is curated by Tyree Boyd-Pates, History Curator and Program Manager, CAAM, and the UCLA Digital Humanities Department.

Image: The Blood of Jesus, 1941. USA. Directed by Spencer Williams. Courtesy Sack Amusement Enterprises/Photofest