Past Event

Faded Glory: Discovering Early African American Cinema

February 22, 0022 - February 22, 2022
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
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Fondation des Etats-Unis, 15 boulevard Jourdan, 75014, Paris France

Most even well-informed filmgoers assume that African American filmmaking began in the late 1980s, when the first films of Spike Lee, John Singleton, Julie Dash and a handful of others began to appear on screens. Yet in fact, there was an active, completely independent cinema made by and for African Americans since the earliest days of the silent era, lasting at least until the early 1950s. Shown almost exclusively with their communities, these films captured the joys, sorrows, complications and contradictions of African American life in what was a United States heavily scarred by racism and segregation.  Blending entertainment, folklore, social analysis and the restrictions of extremely low-budget filmmaking, this independent African American cinema forms a fascinating if little known chapter of the American film heritage. In this illustrated lecture, Columbia University Professor Richard Peña will trace the trajectory of this movement, following its birth, growth and eventual demise in the rapidly changing America of the 1950s. The Blood of Jesus (1941, Spencer Williams, 56 min.) will be screened and analyzed ; clips from other films will also be included.

Richard Peña is a Professor of Film and Media Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema. From 1988 to 2012, he was the Program Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Director of the New York Film Festival. At the Film Society, Richard Peña organized retrospectives of many film artists, including Michelangelo Antonioni, Sacha Guitry, Abbas Kiarostami, King Hu, Robert Aldrich, Roberto Gavaldon, Ritwik Ghatak, Kira Muratova, Fei Mu, Zeki Demirkubuz, Youssef Chahine, Yasujiro Ozu, Carlos Saura, Nagisa Oshima and Amitabh Bachchan, as well as major film series devoted to African, Israeli, Cuban, Polish, Hungarian, Chinese, Arab, Korean, Swedish, Turkish, German, Taiwanese and Argentine cinema. In 1995, together with Unifrance, he created Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, the leading American showcase for new French cinema. A frequent lecturer on film internationally, in 2014-2015, he was a Visiting Professor in Brazilian Studies at Princeton, and in 2015-2016 a Visiting Professor in Film Studies at Harvard. He also taught courses at the Sorbonne, Beijing University and the University of São Paulo. In May 2016, he was the recipient of the “Cathedra Bergman” award at the UNAM in Mexico City, where he offered a three-part lecture series On the Margins of American Cinema. He also hosts WNET/Channel 13’s weekly Reel 13. Currently, he is offering a course on American Avant-Garde Cinema at Sorbonne/Paris1.