First ever known feature film featuring a Black cast goes on exhibit at New York museum

Bert Williams & Odessa Warren Grey in scene from the unreleased 1913 film. Credit Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day Project, via Museum of Modern Art

A great year for black history

Following on from Autograph ABP’s exhibition of the discovery of hundreds of photos of what is believed to be the first set of photographs showing the presence of black people in Victorian era Britain, a new exhibition in the US is showcasing images from the first feature film featuring a black cast.

The 101 year old film footage is being presented at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Never seen until now, the unedited rushes comprises of multiple takes during the early days of production found amongst 900 negatives from the Biograph studio unearthed by MoMA’s founding Film curator, Iris Barry, in 1939, just prior to their scheduled destruction, following the closure of Biograph’s Bronx facilities.

The discovery of this footage is ever more important particularly as previous known early films with black actors have all been lost.

The exhibition runs from October 24 with selections from the film, along with research findings, archival materials, and film stills, in the Roy and Niuta Titus Theater Lobby Galleries. As part of the exhibition “100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History” will run through March 2015.


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