THE ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURES: The groundbreaking exhibition ‘Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971’, is on view until April 2023, reminding us that Black Americans were involved at all levels of filmmaking.
Of course we remember icons of the silver screen like Dorothy Dandridge and Sidney Poitier, but how many can say they were equally as aware of the fact that there were over 30 Black production companies across 15 states in the 20th century, employing Black creatives in positions ranging from producers to lighting technicians to camera operators to editors? I know I didn’t, and I’m a black filmmaker myself, having written the film ‘INHALE’ in 2010. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1196340/
In Regeneration, curators Rhea Combs and Doris Berger present the untold history of Hollywood.
“The genesis for Regeneration began over six years ago, when Doris Berger, the Academy Museum’s vice-president of curatorial affairs, was conducting research in the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. She stumbled upon lobby cards and posters for “race films,” or films with Black casts produced for Black audiences from the 1910s to the 1940s. The title of the exhibition comes from Regeneration, a “South Seas thriller-romance” from 1923 which, at the time of its debut, was a hit with Black and white audiences alike.”
Director/Filmmaker Ava DuVernay called the Regeneration exhibit “a miracle of deep love.”
“This exhibition showcases the generations of Black artists whose shoulders we stand on … their very presence onscreen and behind the camera was an act of revolution; a cultural, political, and emotional victory that has echoed through generations; a triumph that transformed the way that we, as Black people, saw ourselves, and the way that we were seen,” DuVernay said in her opening remarks of the exhibition’s press preview. “Our humanity has always been known, even when we were told otherwise. You don’t give your children to women who are less than human, savages, animals, to be nursed and fed. We’ve always been known despite the stories and myths constructed to distort our truth, but on screen a magic occurs. And at its most magnificent, it is a mirror to what is and what can be — that is the miracle of cinema. And the liberating news about Regeneration, is that this is an exhibit about that miracle, a miracle of deep love. The love of these pioneering black filmmakers, the love that they have for their people. The love that Black audiences have for images of themselves, and the love for film that we all share.”
The Academy Museum’s entire fourth floor is dedicated to Regeneration, and walking through the exhibit myself was eye-opening. I never knew there was so much I never knew. And I encourage filmmakers and film enthusiasts of any race to walk the exhibit and experience this rich slice of film history for themselves. Because Black artists have laid the groundwork for American popular culture in so many more ways than most people are even aware of, and have yet to receive enough credit for their work. So it’s time to give credit where credit is due… Check out this inspiring new Los Angeles exhibit. You’ll be glad you did.