Uplift Cinema

The Emergence of African American Film and the Possibility of Black Modernity

Uplift Cinema

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 68 illustrations Published: June 2015

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

In Uplift Cinema, Allyson Nadia Field recovers the significant yet forgotten legacy of African American filmmaking in the 1910s. Like the racial uplift project, this cinema emphasized economic self-sufficiency, education, and respectability as the keys to African American progress. Field discusses films made at the Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes to promote education, as well as the controversial The New Era, which was an antiracist response to D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation. She also shows how Black filmmakers in New York and Chicago engaged with uplift through the promotion of Black modernity. Uplift cinema developed not just as a response to onscreen racism, but constituted an original engagement with the new medium that has had a deep and lasting significance for African American cinema. Although none of these films survived, Field's examination of archival film ephemera presents a method for studying lost films that opens up new frontiers for exploring early film culture.


"Allyson Nadia Field in Uplift Cinema has immediately established herself as a leading scholar in the study of early black film..... Uplift Cinema is written in a highly accessible style for historians of all stripes. Most importantly, the volume will be seminal not only for scholars of black film but also for those working in African American history and the early Progressive Era." — Gerald R. Butters Jr., Journal of American History

"Allyson Nadia Field has made a vital scholarly contribution; Uplift Cinema is a rich book with much to offer film historians, scholars of African American history, and those interested in visual media. She has expanded our understanding of the scope and range of African American filmmaking and she makes a convincing argument for the continued importance of the film text as a primary source for film historians, even—as with uplift cinema—when it no longer exists in material form." — Julie Lavelle, Black Camera

"Uplift Cinema is a significant historical interpretation and contribution to the complex, contradictory, multifaceted, and challenging ways nascent African- American film makers and leaders in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century struggled to create positive enduring representative images of black people 'up from slavery.'" — Theodoric Manley, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"Field offers a new narrative of black southern modernity and, most vitally, provides lessons for what visual culture methodology can provide historical inquiry." — Elizabeth Schroeder Schlabach, Journal of Southern History

"Field’s book is, at once, an unprecedented reading of an important set of films and analysis of those works and their effects on filmmakers working in their wake ... and a manifesto and model for doing cinema history when film texts themselves are lost. The detail and depth of Field’s work will make it of most interest to specialists, but her clear writing and organization makes her impressive research accessible to undergraduates and more general readers in film studies, social and cultural history, and American and African American studies." — Arthur Knight, History

"Field’s monograph adds further depth to the historiography of African-American studies and film history by providing a detailed reconstruction of an entirely lost period of silent era Black media practice. . . . Her work vividly invokes the fraught politics of representation and resistance that filmmakers continue to grapple with today and her deep probing of the archive should serve as a methodological model to historians as they strive to further unearth the history of moving image practice." — Tanya Goldman, Senses of Cinema

"Even before The Birth of a Nation, African American filmmakers envisioned cinema as a means of presenting a new image of black culture in the USA. With peerless archaeological research, Allyson Nadia Field excavates the roots of African American film within a rhetoric of social uplift. Offering more than a prologue to later black filmmaking, Field reveals the origins of an alternative film culture based in ideological address and political rhetoric, as cinema forged an effective political voice." — Tom Gunning, author of The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity

"A significant and remarkable book, Uplift Cinema revises African American cinematic history. Allyson Field's illuminating scholarship and close reading of primary archival sources will compel historians to reimagine how the history of black cinema is told." — Maurice Wallace, author of Constructing the Black Masculine

"Undaunted by the profound lack of surviving films, Allyson Nadia Field deftly excavates the rich discursive history of how African Americans mobilized and fine-tuned the rhetoric of uplift in the context of visual culture. Uplift Cinema is an essential mapping of the ideological, economic, and aesthetic tensions structuring the emergence of Black American film production and exhibition, and a vital account of Black participation in the history of industrial filmmaking."
— Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, author of Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Allyson Nadia Field is Assistant Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xvii

Introduction 1

1. The Aesthetics of Uplift: The Hampton-Tuskegee Idea and the Possibility of Failure 33

2. "To Show the Industrial Progress of the Negro Along Industrial Lines": Uplift Cinema Entrepreneurs at Tuskegee Institute, 1909–1913 83

3. "Pictorial Sermons": The Campaign Films of Hampton Institute, 1913–1915 121

4. "A Vicious and Hurtful Play": The Birth of a Nation and The New Era, 1915 151

5. To "Encourage and Uplift": Entrepreneurial Uplift Cinema 185

Epilogue 245

Notes 259

Bibliography 299

Index 311
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Rights and licensing

Finalist, 2016 Richard Wall Memorial Award from the Theatre Library Association (TLA)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5881-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5907-4
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