About the Project

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Our research team examining the George P. Johnson Collection in the Special Collections Room at UCLA Young Research Library

We are a group of undergraduate and graduate students in the Digital Humanities program at the University of California, Los Angeles. This main goal of this project was to collaboratively create a database on early African-American silent race films by drawing together information in a wide range of primary and secondary sources. For the purpose of this project, we determined that we would only include silent films created before 1930 for African-American audiences. This definition was the main factor that informed our decisions to include or exclude pieces of data. (You can read more about how we arrived at our definition here.)

The database we have created contains information on films, actors, production companies, and other aspects of early silent-era African American race films. The database is intended to allow the public to learn about this period in film history that is too rarely discussed.

 Within Our Gates, a silent race film from 1920, by the Oscar Micheaux Production Company.

As we compiled the database, we began to see connections within our dataset. We created data visualizations based on these connections in an attempt to give the audience a more complete understanding of the complexity of this early African-American film industry. It is our hope that individuals will be able to utilize this database for their own research on this topic.  We have targeted our database towards scholarly research. However, we hope that the information within this project is accessible to a wide range of audiences who are interested in the early African American film industry.

We have structured our dataset so that it is free to use by individuals for their own research and knowledge.  Each data visualization we have included is accompanied by the specific data used and step by step instructions on how to create similar visualizations.We hope that this project increases interest in this part of history that is too rarely discussed.  The early African-American film industry gives us insight into multiple facets of history, and it is our hope that this project will prompt others continue to explore its significance.


Special Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the distinguished scholars and librarians who helped us and gave us guidance throughout the quarter, whether it be through email, Skype calls, and in person meeting. We could not have done it without these generous individuals. (All of the mistakes, of course, are our own!)

Allyson Field, University of Chicago
Brian Graney, Black Film Center/Archive, University of Indiana
Thomas Padilla, University of California, Santa Barbara
Charles Musser, Yale University
Cara Caddoo, University of Indiana
Peggy Alexander, University of California, Los Angeles
Jan-Christopher Horak, University of California, Los Angeles

Image Credits and Site License

Header image: Undated photograph of Richard E. Norman, Norman Studios Silent Film Museum, Jacksonville, Florida.

We’ve chosen to give this website and its content a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Generic license. This means, in brief, that you’re free to use, reproduce, and distribute any of our work, as long as you credit the members of the team that produced this website. You do not have to ask our permission in order to do so. We’ve chosen this kind of license because we hope others will share this information and data, and perhaps build on it.

We suggest you cite this website this way: Monica Berry, Marika Cifor, Karla Contreras, Hanna Girma, William Lam, Shanya Norman, Miriam Posner, and Aya Grace Yoshioka. Early African American Film. http://dhbasecamp.humanities.ucla.edu/afamfilm/. March–June 2016.


Please contact us here with questions or suggestions.