Black Film Center/Archive awarded 2015 NEH grant

From the IU Newsroom:

The Black Film Center/Archive at IU Bloomington received a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund the project “Richard E. Norman and Race Filmmaking: Reprocessing and Digitization.”

The NEH has awarded $572,000 in grants to Indiana University in this current cycle, including more than $450,000 at the Bloomington campus.  Other projects receiving NEH funding at IU Bloomington include the Archives of Traditional Music, which was awarded $275,000 to digitally preserve one of the largest collections of unique ethnographic wax cylinders outside of the Library of Congress.

Poster for Richard E. Norman's lost final feature, BLACK GOLD.

Poster for Richard E. Norman’s lost final feature, BLACK GOLD.

Richard E. Norman project

The Black Film Center/Archive will produce a new finding aid for the collection of Richard E. Norman, a pioneer in development of films for African-American audiences. Project staff, working in partnership with IU Libraries Digital Collections Services, will enhance this online resource with over 20,000 digitized items from the archive.

“The Norman Collection constitutes a unique resource for the study of the formation of American cinema in general and the history of race films in particular,” said Michael T. Martin, director of the Black Film Center/Archive and a professor of American studies and of communication and culture in The Media School. “Arguably, of no less importance to both histories as the Lincoln Motion Picture Co. and Micheaux Picture Corp. are, this grant ensures the preservation and access of our Norman holdings for current and future generations of researchers, film historians and the public, as it will be to the teaching mission of Indiana University.”

In the early 1900s, Norman, a southern-born white filmmaker, was among a small group of so-called race filmmakers who set out to produce black-oriented pictures to counteract the racist caricatures that had dominated cinema from its inception.

Norman began his filmmaking career in the Midwest before relocating his Norman Film Studios to Jacksonville, Fla., where from 1919 to 1928 he produced silent feature films featuring leading black actors and actresses. He cast his actors in positive roles such as a banker, businessman and cowboy, and not in demeaning roles often given to African Americans by Hollywood. In his 1926 feature, “The Flying Ace,” he notably depicted an African-American pilot in the U.S. Armed Forces — an impossible career in reality for a black man until 1940.

Apart from short fragments, all but one of Norman’s films are now lost, making the collection at IU even more important. His lone surviving film, “The Flying Ace,” was restored by the Library of Congress in 2010 and screened at IU in 2013 as part of the “Regeneration in Digital Contexts: Early Black Film” conference. (Note: Full proceedings of that conference are available online here.)

Norman’s archive at IU — an extensive collection of his personal and professional correspondence, detailed theatrical distribution records, original shooting scripts and other records — is among the most important resources for the study of early African-American film and movie-going culture from 1912 to 1954. Norman ceased film production with the advent of the sound era, but he remained active in the motion picture industry as a distributor and owner of theaters.

“Since the 2013 publication of Barbara Tepa Lupack’s scholarly biography on Norman, we’ve seen a surge of research interest in Norman’s collection from scholars internationally,” said Brian Graney, archivist of the Black Film Center/Archive and principal investigator on the Norman project. “This support from NEH will greatly increase the discoverability of Norman’s records and make them readily available as digital resources for remote research and new forms of scholarship on African-American movie-going.”

The collection was donated by Norman’s son, Capt. Richard E. Norman Jr., to the Black Film Center/Archive under its founding director Phyllis Klotman, emeritus professor of African American and African diaspora studies, who died late last month.

About BFC/A

The Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University was established in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about black people. The BFC/A's primary objectives are to promote scholarship on black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to encourage creative film activity by independent black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of black film traditions. View all posts by BFC/A

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