+
True
UCLA

There’s an entire genre of films from the early 1900s that you’ve probably never heard of.

It’s made up of hundreds of black-and-white silent films featuring stories of adventure, romance, politics, comedy, and more. These films captivated audiences of their time, but most of them no longer exist for us to watch today.

Poster for the film "Black Gold" (1928), which has been lost. Image via Norman Studios/Wikimedia Commons.


What makes them any different than films starring Charlie Chaplin or Clara Bow?

The films of this little-known genre, called “race films,” featured African-American casts, were produced by African-American-owned companies, and were created specifically for African-American audiences. They existed outside the Hollywood system and were often created to counter the caricatures of black people common in mainstream films.

For four months this year, seven students at UCLA meticulously documented these films (plus their actors and companies) in a database.

Students at UCLA working on the database. Images via Miriam Posner, used with permission.

But remember, most of these films don’t actually exist anymore. “They were run into the ground,” Miriam Posner, Ph.D., wrote in an email. Posner, a professor of digital humanities at the University of California, Los Angeles, was the coordinator of the research project.

“Some of these race film companies could only afford to make one copy or a few copies [of a film], which they then personally escorted around the company until the prints fell apart,” she said.

How exactly does one go about documenting hundreds of films from nearly a century ago — when those films no longer exist?

“We were venturing into pretty unknown territory,” research team member Shayna Norman told UCLA Newsroom.

A poster for "The Gunsaulus Mystery," a 1921 film that is now believed to be lost. Image via Micheaux Film Corporation/Wikimedia Commons.

Posner explains that the team used a combination of primary and secondary sources. They would start with established filmographies, then trace the data back to production notes, newspaper clippings, and movie posters to confirm the data entry and the spelling. “It was super time-consuming, but also really engrossing.”

Posner’s team of UCLA students is certainly not the first to dig into these films. “There’s a wonderful wealth of scholarship on this community,” she said. But “no one had systematically pulled people, films, and companies from this scholarship and gathered it in one place.” In that sense, the work these students completed was truly groundbreaking.

The result of the team’s hard work is a comprehensive, searchable database of over 300 films produced from 1909 to 1930.

Oscar Micheaux, Evelyn Preer, Lawrence Chenault, and E.G. Tatum are just a few of the black artists whose histories are preserved in the database.

A newspaper ad for "Within Our Gates." Image via Micheaux Book & Film Company/Wikimedia Commons.

Take, for example, the 1920 film “Within Our Gates,” one of the most famous of these films, and one that still exists today (you can even watch it on YouTube). According to the UCLA Newsroom, this film “is one of the few examples of a race film that garnered some attention — and an audience — from the white press.”

The UCLA team’s database lists everyone who worked on or appeared in “Within Our Gates,” but it also shows how those people are connected to others in the race film community. The visual result of these connections is a webbed map showing the entire network. The data, when displayed in this way, is mesmerizing.

A visual representation of the network of people involved in the race film community. Oscar Micheaux, who directed "Within Our Gates," appears at the center of this network. Screenshot via "Early African American Film"/UCLA.

As discussions like #OscarsSoWhite continue to make an annual appearance, it’s so important to recognize black artists’ contributions to early filmmaking.

#OscarsSoWhite is the trending hashtag that reappeared around the 2016 Academy Awards when only white actors and actresses were nominated for the top categories.

“The [database] project illuminates in an unprecedented way how African American artists are deeply embedded in film history,” Marika Cifor, a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA, wrote in an email. “Their presence can be traced back to the medium’s earliest days.”

Or as Posner puts it, “THEY HAVE BEEN THERE SINCE THE BEGINNING.”

The filmmakers and artists whose work is chronicled in this database are people who “[persisted] in developing their craft in spite of the most heinous odds, and in spite of a culture that actively represses their art,” Posner continued. “They deserve to be remembered, and their role in the history of filmmaking deserves to be acknowledged.”

Photo by Jeremy Wong on Unsplash

Teen raises $186,000 to help Walmart worker retire.

In America, many people have to work well past the age of retirement to make ends meet. While some of these people choose to work past retirement age because it keeps them active, some older people, like Nola Carpenter, 81, work out of necessity.

Carpenter has been working at Walmart for 20 years, way beyond most people's retirement age just so that she can afford to continue to pay her mortgage. When 19-year-old Devan Bonagura saw the woman looking tired in the break room of the store, he posted a video to his TikTok of Carpenter with a text overlay that said, "Life shouldn't b this hard..." complete with a sad face emoji.

In the video, Carpenter is sitting at a small table looking down and appearing to be exhausted. The caption of the video reads ":/ I feel bad." Turns out, a lot of other people did too, and encouraged the teen to start a GoFundMe, which has since completed.

Keep ReadingShow less
More

12 fascinating facts about the American flag that you probably didn't know

The flag used to have 15 stars, the Pledge of Allegiance started out as a marketing gimmick, and 10 more Flag Day facts.

Photo by Robert Linder on Unsplash

There's a whole lot of story behind the American flag.

The Stars and Stripes, Old Glory, the Star-Spangled Banner — whatever you call it, the United States flag is one of the most recognizable symbols on Earth.

As famous as it is, there's still a lot you might not know about our shining symbol of freedom. For instance, did you know that on some flags, the stars used to point in different directions? Or that there used to be more than 13 stripes? How about a gut-check on all those star-spangled swimsuits you see popping up in stores around the Fourth of July?

We'll explore these topics and more in this fun list of 12 facts about the U.S. flag that you might not know about.

Keep ReadingShow less
Celebrity

U.S. Soccer star expertly handles an Iranian reporter’s loaded questions about race.

Tyler Adams’s response proves exactly why he’s the captain of the US soccer team.

Tyler Adams expertly handles Iranian reporter's question

Reporters are supposed to ask the right questions to get to the truth but sometimes it seems sports reporters ask questions to throw you off your game. There's no doubt that this Iranian reporter who was questioning Tyler Adams, the US soccer team captain at the press conference during the World Cup had an agenda that didn't involve getting to the truth.

It's not clear if the questions were designed to throw the young player off of his game or if the goal was embarrassment. It really is hard to tell, but Adams handled the unexpectedly harsh encounter with intelligence and poise when some may have found it justified for him to get angry.

Keep ReadingShow less
More

A pediatrician's viral post will bring you to tears and inspire you to be a better person.

It's incredibly easy to incorporate these lessons into our lives.

Pediatrician offers advice to inspire.

Pediatrician Alastair McAlpine gave some of his terminal patients an assignment. What they told him can inspire us all.

"Kids can be so wise, y'know," the Cape Town doctor and ultra-marathon enthusiast posted to his Twitter account. He asked the young patients, short on time, about the things that really mattered to them.

Keep ReadingShow less