For Our Consideration: When Chicago was the black Hollywood

If you happen to be in the United States and you have Netflix, check out a set that’s currently streaming called Pioneers Of African-American Cinema. It’s a collection of 20 restored feature and short films by early black American filmmakers, picked from the box set of the same title released last year by Kino Lorber—very much a labor of love. For the history of race films, as movies meant for black audiences were once called, survives as a collage of fragments, like one of those paper découpage folding screens that you will sometimes find in an antique store. Come to think of it, isn’t it interesting that we call the viewing surface of films a “screen”? Because the original function of screens is to obscure or block.

My own interest in race films started almost exactly 10 years ago, when I used to go weekly to …

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