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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.”

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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Hold on, Frankie! Mama's coming!

How do you explain motherhood in a nutshell? Thanks to Cait Oakley, who stopped a preying bald eagle from capturing her pet goose as she breastfed her daughter, we have it summed up in one gloriously hilarious TikTok.

The now viral video shows the family’s pet goose, Frankie, frantically squawking as it gets dragged off the porch by a bald eagle—likely another mom taking care of her own kiddos.

Wearing nothing but her husband’s boxers while holding on to her newborn, Willow, Oakley dashes out of the house and successfully comes to Frankie's rescue while yelling “hey, hey hey!”

The video’s caption revealed that the Oakleys had already lost three chickens due to hungry birds of prey, so nothing was going to stop “Mama bear” from protecting “sweet Frankie.” Not even a breastfeeding session.

Oakley told TODAY Parents, “It was just a split second reaction ...There was nowhere to put Willow down at that point.” Sometimes being a mom means feeding your child and saving your pet all at the same time.

As for how she feels about running around topless in her underwear on camera, Oakley declared, “I could have been naked and I’m like, ‘whatever, I’m feeding my baby.’”

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