Monthly Archives: July 2012

Casting ‘Regeneration’: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Race Film

Stella Mayo – the ‘Sensational Colored Screen Beauty’ – won the lead as Violet Daniels in Regeneration, only after director Richard Norman had struggled for months to find a lead actress who would (a), ‘photograph well’ and (b), meet the salary requirements of Norman Studios, stricken by a sharp decrease in the market for race films leading up to 1923.

We know very little about Mayo; she seems to have come to Regenreation from relative obscurity and returned there rather quickly.  However, through the Norman Collection at the Black Film Center/Archive, a much larger story about the casting and promoting of Regeneration emerges – a fascinating window into the era of race films and the junctures of sex, economics, color and propriety.

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To contextualize a bit first, though, here’s the synopsis, followed by a montage of promotional materials:

A ne’er-do-well man, a beautiful girl, and her one-legged body-guard/family servant are the sole survivors – they think – of a ship wreck and make it to a uninhabited south-seas island. The influence of the girl brings about a reformation of the man in this version of Eden…until three sailors, also survivors, show up, and have designs on the girl. Then a pirates’ treasure chest is discovered buried on the beach, and matters become even more tense…and violent.

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On September 4th, 1923, Richard Norman wrote to A. Rosen, a friend and film distributor in Baltimore, about Regeneration:

Regeneration is a high class thriller and will appeal to New York, Philadelphia, Washington audiences better that ANY PICTURE WE HAVE RELEASED. ANOTHER THING, I am endeavoring to work in several nude and artistic bathing scenes on the desert island that will not offend and can be nicely removed for censorship. And with two styles of ones, one of them showing this bathing scene with villain peering lustfully through the bushes at terrified girl – it will draw like mustard poultice[1].

Norman’s vision for a sexy Crusoe-esque story had began in May of that year, when he wrote to M.C. Maxwell (Maxwell and Norman had worked together before), who was cast as the lead man for his ‘mature physique.’  Finding his leading lady – who would bring sex appeal and with a known name and who could work within the studio’s budget – would prove very difficult for Norman, though.

Miss Ida Anderson of New York

He first tried Miss Ida Anderson, offering her a salary of $50/week and transportation to Jacksonville (where Norman Studios were) and back from New York (where Anderson lived). Continue reading

Look Out for T-REX

Claressa Shields, at 17, will be the youngest woman boxer at the Olympics this year – a testament to her skill in the ring.  And there’s currently a feature length documentary in the works about here – a testament to her radiant personality.


Shields in Flint. Photo from

Drea Cooper, Zackary Canepari, and Sue Johnson set out to make a documentary about female fighters.  When they found Shields, they stayed with her – filming all the while.  Now, with the Olympics looming and with more and more pieces of the documentary coming into place, the crew has launched a Kickstarter campaign to generate funding to finish the film. The Kickstarter page has much more information about the film and includes some great clips of Shields.

Here, the teaser for T-REX, which takes its name from Shields’ nickname:

Some more press on Shields – NPR has a story on her here; CNN ran an interesting photo spread here; and video by the New York Times is here.  Be sure to tune in to see Shields at the Olympics, and then catch the documentary later down the road.

Imaging the Past with Educational Films

The Indiana University Libraries have recently posted 197 newly digitized films from their educational film collections. Among these are several films by and about African Americans, including 1985’s award-winning The Masters of Disaster, documenting the successes of a chess team of black sixth-graders; the 1976 musical drama In the Rapture, performed at the Church of the Living God, Temple #18, in Indianapolis; and a corresponding discussion film, The Rapture Family, led by IU’s Dr. Herman Hudson, Dean for Afro-American Affairs, and Dr. William H. Wiggins, Jr., Professor of Afro-American Studies. You can find these online here.

Satan as temptor in The Rature.

Having grown up with many an educational reel in the classroom, I tend to think of the genre as a repository for funny jeans, awkward haircuts, and forced dialogue.  And yet, while this may be an aspect of their appeal today, it’s only part of the story.

“Though educational films can now be viewed as amusing, cultural relics from another era, many of these films serve as important historical documents from the past,” said IU Libraries Film Archivist Rachael Stoeltje, in a press release from the IU Libraries.

Indeed, serious scholarship has increasingly turned its attention towards educational film, as evidenced with last year’s publication of Learning with the Lights Off: Educational Film in the United States and Useful Cinema.

While the genre is still often viewed as a separate entity that simply uses film but doesn’t traffic in the wider world of cinema, many independent filmmakers–especially documentarians–also produced work for the educational market.  This list includes two prominent black filmmakers represented in the collections of BFC/A: William Greaves and St. Clair Bourne. Greaves, who won four Emmys and produced National Entertainment Television’s (pre-cursor to PBS) Black Journal, has an extensive catalog of educational films here.  And here, check out the New York Times Lens series to explore the legacy of St. Clair Bourne and his Chamba productions.

Profile: Majid Michel

“I don’t want to just entertain – I want to hit the very soul of the viewers,” says Majid Michel in the interview posted below, made by Erawoc Bros Group and Digiglobal Media.

Michel, the recipient of Nollywood & African Film Critics Award for Best Actor in 2011 as well as the African Movie Academy Awards for Best Actor in 2012, sat down for the wide-ranging interview recently, touching on his introduction to acting (“I started the same old way– my neighbor said ‘you want to make some money?’”), his commitment to method acting (e.g. playing Christ-like characters and how to get himself out of breath), and American films (“American films made America”).

Michel, the son of a Lebanese father and a Ghanaian mother, grew up the youngest of 9 children in Accra, where he began his acting career.  He found early success Ghanaian TV series The Things We Do for Love, and has since played in “close to 50” features.  He’s won recent critical acclaim for Bursting Out (pictured above), starring opposite Genevieve Nnaji, and directed by Desmond Elliot, Daniel Ademinokan.

In his interviews, Michel is quite the conversationalist; check out more interviews with Ghanalinx TV here and with AMCNigeria here.

Love Nollywood? Stream It

Innovation – in filmmaking, storytelling – has long been a marker of Nollywood.   Innovation has long marked distribution channels as well, and the layered conversation about the line between piracy, copyright law, and fulfilling public demand gets complicated.

Perhaps we’re closer to a solution to Nollywood’s 50 percent losses to piracy now with the rise of iROKO Partners, who fulfill demand with free video streaming while compensating producers.

Of the various sites over the years to offer streaming Nollywood videos, iROKO Partners has emerged as king attracting over 500,000 users to iROKOtv in just 6 months.  In addition to iROKOtv, iROKO Partners runs several other sites that cater slightly differently – Nollywood Love, Yoruba Love, and iROKing (for music).

Jenifa is back

It’s quite simple to use; I got on today and was watching The Return of Jenifa in no time.  And the model is legal, straightforward, and simple – users watch minimal and fairly unobtrusive advertisements to access free content (though iROKOtv has just added a optional $5/month service for premium content).  The model was forged as a partnership with Youtube, and thus have that Youtube feel, though only previews are available on Nollywood Love’s Youtube Channel. Though it’s been called the ‘Netflix of Africa’ –and putting aside how tired the ‘X of Africa’ form is – it’s a model much more akin to HULU and HULUplus.

In an interview with CNN in 2011, Jason Njoku the founder of iROKO Partners, says it’s a sector where he sees much more growth.  Currently, most watchers are from the Nigeran (and more generally, African) Diaspora where fast internet is cheap. This happens not only in the West, but in places like Malaysia, which ranks 6th in users of Nollywood Love.  From this initial positioning, Njoku sees two opportunities for growth, both as high-speed internet becomes more accessible across the continent, and as Nollywood becomes more popular and accepted outside of the Diaspora.