As centennial commemorations of DW Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” gear up, a new book by historian Cara Caddoo proves African Americans helped invent the movies a decade before the first Hollywood film. Published by Harvard University Press, “Envisioning Freedom: Cinema and the Building of Modern Black Life” uncovers the forgotten history of black inventors, filmmakers, and exhibitors.
“A lot of people assume that African Americans just followed in the footsteps of white filmmakers,” says Caddoo, an Assistant Professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, “That’s really a whitewashing of American film history.”
Years before the 1915 debut of Griffith’s pro-KKK film, which is widely credited for inaugurating “modern American cinema,” African Americans produced their own films and built their own theaters. Caddoo explains that this began in the 1890s–more than a decade before Hollywood, and long before the rise of better-known black filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux.
The first African…
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