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A History of Blackness in American Cinema at MoMA

The series Making Faces on Film gathers daring and singular films about being black in the United States, from 1913 to today.

<em>Body and Soul</em> (1925), USA, directed by Oscar Micheaux (courtesy Kino Lorber)
Body and Soul (1925), USA, directed by Oscar Micheaux (courtesy Kino Lorber)

Get Out is hardly the first film to satirize or critique simplistic treatments of race and racism in cinema. As the Museum of Modern Art will show in a series of screenings organized in conjunction with the British Film Institute, the histories of mainstream, independent, and experimental cinema are full of examples of characters and stories that have both shaped and challenged conventional constructions of blackness.

Cleopatra Jones (1973), USA, directed by Jack Starrett (The Museum of Modern Art Film Study Center Special Collections)
Cleopatra Jones (1973), USA, directed by Jack Starrett (The Museum of Modern Art Film Study Center Special Collections)

The series, a companion piece to the MoMA exhibition Making Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema, kicks off on Tuesday, April 18 with Body and Soul, pioneering black independent director Oscar Micheaux’s silent film from 1925 — here, with live accompaniment by Braxton Cook and Andrew Renfroe — starring actor and activist Paul Robeson in a dual role as two brothers. Also included are Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s No Way Out (1950), a thriller about racial violence that marked Sydney Poitier’s big screen debut, and Haile Gerima’s 1979 vérité-style drama Bush Mama, about a woman fighting to keep her family together in Los Angeles’s poverty-stricken Watts neighborhood. Most screenings are preceded either by a scholar’s introduction or the projection of a related short film. The series concludes on April 26 with Jack Starrett’s Blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones (1973).

When: Daily screenings April 18–26
Where: The Museum of Modern Art (11 West 53rd Street, Midtown, Manhattan)

More info here.

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