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Black Filmmaking

G. William Jones General Entry

The first Texas-based motion pictures were made as early as 1921 by a Black film company, Superior Art productions of Houston. Two Black-owned San Antonio film companies, Lone Star and Cotton Blossom, were also active in the early 1920s. Lone Star made four motion pictures in 1922 and one in 1923. Because the films no longer exist and were never copyrighted (the usual source for dating films), which of the four 1922 films was made first is unknown, but we do know their titles: Stranger From Way Out Yonder, The Wrong Mr. Johnson, You Can't Keep A Good Man Down: Byron Smith, Mae Morris, and Frank Brown. The M. W. Baccus Films Company, although White-owned, specialized in making films of interest mainly to African Americans in Dallas in 1922. Its sole known production was entitled From Cotton Patch To Congress. Hit by the Great Depression, the influenza epidemic, and the advent of the more expensive process of making sound films in the late 1920s, the Texas Black film companies and producers of what were then called "race movies" went into oblivion, as did the perishable nitrate-based prints and negatives of their films.

From 1941 through 1947 Alfred R. Sack of Dallas and Spencer Williams, a Black screenwriter-actor from Hollywood, produced ten films in and around Dallas, including two comedies (Juke Joint and Dirty Gertie from Harlem, U.S.A.), two religious films (Go Down, Death!, with Myra D. Hemmings, and The Blood of Jesus), two dramas (Girl in Room 20 and Of One Blood), and a musical performance film featuring Dizzy Gillespie and his Orchestra (Jivin' in Bebop). The films were produced under various company names, such as Sack Amusement Enterprises, which was the main distributor of Black-cast films in the United States between 1920 and 1950, Amergro Films, Sack Attractions, and Harlemwood Studios. Most of the Sack-Williams films have been found and restored by the Southwest Film-Video Archives in Dallas. In the summer of 1983 the last remaining film prints of more than 100 works in the original 35-millimeter format made between the 1920s and the early 1950s were found in a Tyler warehouse. Some of them were intended strictly for Black audiences. Though most of the films in the collection, now dubbed the Tyler, Texas, Black Film Collection, were in various stages of deterioration from nitrate decomposition, several were restored. Of the twenty-two titles in the collection, fifteen had a Black artist as producer, director, or screenwriter, and the majority of those had a Black writer-director or a Black producer-director. See also FILM INDUSTRY.


Donald Bogle, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films (New York: Viking Press, 1973). Thomas Cripps, Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1900–1942 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977). G. William Jones, Black Cinema Treasures: Lost and Found (Denton: University of North Texas, 1991). Phyllis Klotman, Frame By Frame: A Black Filmography (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978). Henry T. Sampson, Blacks in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1977).

Categories:

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Visual Arts
  • Arts and Crafts

Time Periods:

  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • World War II

Places:

  • Central Texas
  • San Antonio
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Houston
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

G. William Jones, “Black Filmmaking,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 22, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/black-filmmaking.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
February 3, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects:

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