Author Archives: BFC/A

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.

Remembering Phil Moore (1917-1987)

When the Black Film Center/Archive received Mary Perry Smith’s 2014 gift of records and memorabilia from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, we uncovered a unique collection nested within it documenting the life and work of Phil Moore (1917-1987).  Moore was himself among the earliest inductees into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and remained a committed volunteer and supporter of the non-profit throughout his last years.


Phil Moore photo triptych, seen here during BFC/A archivist Ronda Sewald’s initial processing of the collection at the Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility in 2014.

A musical dynamo, Phil Moore became the first African American salaried by a major Hollywood studio when, in 1941, he was hired by the MGM music department. By the time of his departure in 1945, he had worked on over 40 films for the studio.  A man of many talents, Moore worked as a composer, arranger, conductor, and vocal coach.  After moving on to New York, Moore became the first black talent director for CBS. Throughout his career, Moore worked with popular artists such as Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe, to name a few.  Though known today mostly among jazz aficionados, his influence can be seen throughout American pop music culture from the ’40s-’60s.

Phil Moore portrait 2.jpg

Phil Moore portrait [detail], circa 1960s [COL 6 PA 230]. Phil Moore Collection. Black Film Center/Archive, Indiana University.  Photographer unknown.  In the background are albums and photographs of his various clients including Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Marilyn Monroe, Bobby Short, Frank Sinatra, and many others.

Born an orphan, Moore was adopted by George Philip and Iris Irene Moore on March 7th, 1917, in Portland, Oregon. His studies of music began early – in one of his autobiographical recordings Moore recalled  that his second piano teacher, prominent Portland organist Edgar Coursen, taught him, at “somewhere between seven and eight, how to take a piano apart and tune it and fix it.” By age thirteen, Moore had moved to Seattle, graduated high school, and accumulated enough performance experience to be labeled an “accomplished pianist.” He attended the University of Washington and the Cornish School of Music, where he studied music theory and arrangement. In the late ’30s, Moore ventured out to Los Angeles where he would soon land his first MGM job as a “rehearsal pianist.”  The racial climate of the time forced Moore to accept this and other similarly diminished titles even while he performed uncredited work composing and arranging for leading white musical directors from his start with the studio.


A Rhythm Hymn, Score II. Glen Gray, 1941 February 4 [COL 6 OSL 1.1]. Phil Moore Collection. Black Film Center/Archive, Indiana University.  CC BY-NC.

Moore went on to work on numerous films at MGM, including Ziegfeld Girl (1941), Cabin in the Sky (1943), and Kismet (1944). Moore also freelanced for studios such as Colombia and Universal. Due to feelings of marginalization and countless instances of being under-credited, Moore departed from MGM in 1945. Moore took to New York where he became a talent director for CBS radio, as well as an arranger for NBC. In 1949, Moore took on Marilyn Monroe as a vocal student; a year later Moore took on Dorothy Dandridge and served as her manager until 1952. While Moore’s career was relatively quiet from the early ’60s on, he continued to write music for television commercials and programs, coach musical groups such as The Supremes, and operate a singing and talent school with his wife Jeanne until his passing in 1987.



Pages from the 1986 draft of Moore’s unpublished autobiography.  It discusses his work scoring for The Duke Is Tops (Million Dollar Productions, 1938), his appearance with the Dandridge Sisters and the Cats and the Fiddle in “The Harlem Yodel” from Snow Gets in Your Eyes (MGM, 1938), and his uncredited role in arranging “When I See an Elephant Fly” for Dumbo (Disney, 1941).  Things I Forgot to Tell You: Moore Stuff typed manuscript, c1986 [COL 6 PM 1.28]. Phil Moore Collection. Black Film Center/Archive, Indiana University. CC BY-NC.

Moore’s legacy is traceable from his first performances with Frank Waldron’s band at Seattle’s Chinese Garden nightclub during the Great Depression, through his arrival in Hollywood, and extending through the posthumous release of the album, Guess Who’s in Town, his final co-production with Bobby Short. Thirty years after his passing, many of Moore’s prominent students continue to declare his influence on their careers as one of their first vocal coaches.  His plethora of musical talents that allowed him to work in film cannot be understated, as it was before the advent of musical technologies that we have today. The proliferation and affordability of musical technologies – via Moore’s Law – has given modern black musicians (e.g. Pharrell Williams, DJ Spooky) the ability to interact with film as arrangers, composers, producers, and conductors simultaneously. This statement is not to deny the talent of modern artists, but to highlight the mastery possessed by Moore to fulfill these roles nearly 70 years ago.


On Saturday, November 4, the spirit of Phil Moore will ring through Renée Baker’s original score for the 1927 film, The Scar of Shame, commissioned by the IU Cinema, where it will have its world premiere at 7pm. Baker notes specifically that motifs in her score have been inspired by the work of Phil Moore, most prominently his 1939 composition, Suite for Strings.

~Elijah Pouges


An exhibit of materials from the Phil Moore collection at the Black Film Center/Archive, curated by writer, musician, and IU journalism student Elijah Pouges, is on view through December 14, 2017, in the IU Cinema lower lobby.


A Conversation with TEACH US ALL Director Sonia Lowman

TEACH US ALL, the directorial debut by Sonia Lowman, is a documentary focused on de-facto segregation and a need for true integration in schools, in the face of globalization.  The September 25th release by ARRAY — set to align with the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine upon whom the film establishes itself — will be marked by series of nationwide screenings, as well being made available on Netflix. 


The BFC/A will sponsor a free screening of TEACH US ALL at 6:30 pm on September 25 at the IU Libraries Screening Room in Wells Library.  Dionne Danns, an Associate Professor in IU’s School of Education, will introduce the film and lead a discussion after the screening. Other organizations joining the BFC/A in screening TEACH US ALL on this date are the Gary International Black Film Festival (Indiana University – Northwest), the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, as well as the Ark Lodge Cinema in Seattle. The film will be available on Netflix the same day.

Elijah Pouges (Class of 2018, IU Media School) had the opportunity to speak last month with Ms. Lowman about the film, her inspiration, and plans for the future.

Elijah Pouges: To begin the interview, I was doing some research on your background to understand you as a filmmaker. I read an article that you had written a few years back called “What Will You Climb For?” The article struck me as you talking about your experience with someone else’s humanitarian work and the magnitude to which it affected you. I want to start by asking, why did you climb?   This topic in particular was a huge thing for your first foray into filmmaking – de facto segregation and academic inequality. What inspired you?

Sonia Lowman: It’s interesting. I’ve worked in international relations for a long time. That’s what I studied. I was largely naïve to domestic social issues. I was focused on things happening abroad. My social consciousness sort of evolved with the global landscape. When I got burnt out in the humanitarian stuff, I sort of accidentally fell into the education space, looking for a communication job. I ended up becoming really passionate about education as I started to learn how intricately connected it is to so many other challenges in our society, and really, really, coming to believe that it’s the most important thing we should be dealing with. It’s not always the sexiest thing, by any means, but it’s so connected to all of these other things that are sort of sexier and make the headlines. For me, I feel firmly convicted that we’re not going to get all of these other things right, if we can’t get education right. That was sort of the awakening for me on the centrality of education in progressing a society and just becoming aware of the inequities. Then, what kind of created the beginning of the film was working for the organization I work for, the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes, who do a lot of work on history-based positive role models for young people. I was doing a lot of work on the Little Rock Nine and became steeped in that story. Then one of the people in the film, Jonathan Crossley in Little Rock, was one of our teacher fellows. We were doing a training he was at, two summers ago. He got a call from the principal of the Little Rock school district. Not the principal – the superintendent – appointing him as the turnaround principal of one of the lowest performing elementary schools [in Arkansas, Baseline Academy]. That just kind of happened serendipitously while I was getting to know him, as he was speaking eloquently and passionately about inequity. I started to sort of connect the dots. We’re coming up on the 60th anniversary [of the 1957 integration struggle of the Little Rock Nine]. From an impact filmmaking standpoint, I realized that this anniversary would be strategic timing to elevate a social justice campaign around equity and segregation. I sort of dove in with no prior film experience and having this sort of urgency surrounding the anniversary made me able to do it a lot quicker than a first time filmmaker [usually] would have, maybe. But I had to get it done for the anniversary. I had the campaign building simultaneously the entire time, and just this complete conviction and passion for the subject.


Still from Sonia Lowman’s TEACH US ALL, courtesy of ARRAY.

E: I found the film arresting, and the research was thorough – an emotionally-engaging film. Kudos to you on that. You got into my next question kind of inadvertently. You said that the film kind of evolved from the story of the Little Rock Nine. Was it always your goal to include them as a part of the story, or like you were saying earlier, did they intertwine as you were learning about inequity and they came together and it aligned with the anniversary [of the 1957 integration struggle of Central High]?

S: It was always my intention to use that as the launch point so that we could tie it into the anniversary, because one of the missions of the Lowell Milken Center is to show young people the relevance of history in their lives, and because we are so disconnected from history and not taught African-American history in our public schools very well. I think it was important for me to always have the section that reviewed the Little Rock Nine story for a generation that’s pretty far removed from it, especially with the target audience being young people to a large degree. It was always intended to really circle around that. What’s interesting is that I did consult other filmmakers – successful filmmakers – at the start of the project. I had this really strong feeling, having grown up in Los Angeles and spending a lot of time on the East Coast, that I didn’t want to do a story that was just Little Rock 60 years later because I feel like it’s so hard for a lot of this country to connect with the South and the racial issues there, and really … we’re so used to saying, “Oh, we solved it, nothing happened here.” I really just felt like if we just did Little Rock 60 years later it would be easy for people to kind of …

E: It would be easy for people to disengage with the topic.

S: Totally.

E: Because I see you included the narrative of a New York [City] School and a group of students who came together to form a coalition of sorts. I thought that was a good turning point in the narrative to emphasize that this isn’t just exclusively in Arkansas, exclusively in the South, but it is an issue, unfortunately, with our whole nation.

S: Yeah. That was deliberate. Like I said, I got a lot of advice to not do that. I had to really kind of search myself because public, successful, filmmakers essentially told me that including them would confuse the narrative – “you’re taking on too much, just keep it focused on Little Rock and you’ll have a more focused story.” I would have had a more focused story, but I don’t feel like I would have had as relevant of a story.

E: Are you able to tell me with whom you consulted?

S: Yeah. I consulted with Davis Guggenheim of Waiting for Superman and Lee Hirsch from Bully, and those were both successful educational documentaries, as you know. Yeah, they’re supportive of the project and wonderful consultants. It was interesting because I felt like I was going against the advice and it’s my first film. I don’t know. It’s just a little nerve-wracking. But I had to follow my gut.

E: As a filmmaker, you make the final call. It’s your story. It’s an important story. You have to tell it through your lens. I commend you for doing that. What sort of response has the film received so far? Have you been able to screen it for the students that were featured?

S: I would say it’s been interesting for me because I was a little bit unprepared for the … in a sense, I guess the battleground that I was entering into. I knew [that] education was a highly politicized topic, but I have been surprised at really how highly politicized adults’ positions are, adults who claim to work on behalf of students. From a student’s perspective, the response has been strong. Parent response has been strong. A lot of different educator kind of networks and people who are really trying to push kind of new innovations in education, and obviously have a passion for equity, the response has been strong. Then, there has been some not so excited responses from people who are very politicized – it was interesting because I purposely put in some figures that are polarizing, and often back to back, to show that they’re often saying the same things and yet they create such incredible divisions that really distract and detract from doing what’s best for students. I’ve gotten a little more used to that.

E: Was it jarring for you to realize that education was this politicized thing? Because often times with this, as I’m sure you know after making this film, especially, is it’s children that lose ultimately. This is at the expense of the education of our nation – our future that we’re talking about. We’re talking about poor kids. We’re talking about poor black and brown kids. It just seems like there’s no reason for it to be. But, was that jarring for you to realize?

S: Without a doubt – it’s been jarring. It’s been confusing. It’s been challenging. I just have to keep reminding myself who I made the film for. The point is to try to help give a voice to a lot of people who don’t have a voice, or to help, especially through the campaign to really build up the leadership of students who feel marginalized in the system. I think from that perspective, and just kind of keeping the focus on students’ voice, and student activism, and student engagement and leadership – we should be listening to them. I think that I just have to keep emphasizing that and not get too caught up in some of the just, I think, insane politics of it. But, yeah, it’s been definitely eye-opening. It makes sense, I guess. Probably why education is in the state that it’s in.


Still from Sonia Lowman’s TEACH US ALL, courtesy of ARRAY.

E: Yeah …

S: I’m sorry. I was going to say the more that if we can really consult students, the more we can kind of navigate through some of this because it’s compelling to hear students speak for themselves instead of adults speaking for students.

E: Absolutely. You have to address, or, rather, the population you’re dealing with has to be addressed. I think it’s absurd when you have students saying, we want to get an education. We’re not incapable of performing but we don’t have the resources, or we don’t have the basic things we need to succeed. It’s weird because when you think about politics, you’re thinking about, in theory, highly educated people. You’ve heard of the hierarchy of needs. How are children supposed to succeed when they’re not getting the bare minimum? And then to make that political… It’s definitely counterintuitive. I feel you 100% on that. You mentioned briefly, the movement. The website frames the film as kind of being a catalyst for a social movement.

S: I haven’t updated the website to reflect a lot of the tools we’re developing for the campaign because I’ve been so overwhelmed. But, I can send you an overview that outlines the different partner organizations or the different sort of tools or infrastructure we’re developing. The next couple of weeks, we’ll have a chance to get that updated on the website. I’ve been focused a lot on working largely with the group that you mentioned in New York – IntegrateNYC4Me – who’s actually expanding to be called Integrate Us. They’re building a social action curriculum for students, that I think is going to be really compelling to plug into that network of student activists. And then, working with educator organizations to develop tools for teachers, particularly, or high needs [classrooms]. Then, yeah, there’s a bunch of stuff. I’ll send it to you. If you have questions on the campaign, I’m happy to follow up with those.

E: Yes, please, absolutely. You talked about what you hope the film will accomplish. When you see the film now and you think about your audience, what do you want people to leave with after viewing it?

S: I mean, it largely depends on kind of who’s viewing it in terms of what might be next steps, concrete steps. But I think some of the overarching things are really around this sense of collective responsibility, the sense that we are not going to fix it as a country if we don’t address education in a way that really puts students at the forefront of articulating and creating that change. I think if you’re talking about kind of what I want adults to take away from it, is a sense of collective responsibility – it’s more than just your own child, but it’s all of America’s children. If you’re a student, I want you to take away the urgency of continuing the civil rights battle and demanding what you deserve and fighting for the change you need to kind of continue that legacy of the Little Rock Nine and their peers, that it’s more relevant than ever. I think something that is subtly reinforced throughout is this idea of community ownership and that the success of our schools, and our students, and our teachers, is not possible without sort of an entire community approach. We can’t just let schools be in sort of these isolated things that we drop our kids off to anymore. I don’t know if they were ever that, but they’re certainly not that now. That’s really going to take sort of rolling up our sleeves and becoming, taking ownership of our schools as communities, if we’re ever going to sort of turn this around. Those are sort of largely abstract. And then there’s the social action campaign, which has sort of concrete steps for each of those sort of different audiences, if you will.


Still from Sonia Lowman’s TEACH US ALL, courtesy of ARRAY.

E: This is more on the production-end of things. How did your partnership with Array come about for this film? I believe they’re your distributor, if I’m correct?

S: Yes. We sent the film to them for review, and they came back with an offer. It was, I think, the absolute right partner at the right time. I think it’s really complimentary to her [Ava DuVernay] film 13th, through the connection of the school to prison pipeline.

E: Absolutely.

S: Yeah. I think they’re the perfect champions for it, and we got incredibly lucky. But, I also think it’s just really the right timing. It was sort of meant to be in that sense.

TeachUsAll_TourGraphic_1000x1000E: Given your background in international relations and you saying this was your first foray into dealing with domestic issues, do you feel like the film reflects what you personally believe should be done for education – if you were put in the position of power, what would you first address in terms of achieving integration? I know it’s a really big question. But it’s just like what do you see as being missing when we’re talking about integrated schools?

S: Again, if I were put in charge, I think it would be two-fold. The top thing being really putting students in position of leadership to take part in it. Having a student on a Board of Education with a voting membership, the local school boards, basically… it’s interesting because it’s similar to what I started to feel was necessary in the international relations world too. It’s different when you have people sort of parachuting in from the outside, people telling you what to do, versus a model that works on building local capacity and creating a leadership within a country so there’s not that dependency. It’s a similar thing in essence that if students are your affected population then they need to be consulted, and their needs to be articulated by them. We can’t be addressing the needs of students if we’re not talking to them. I think that would be my first thing. From there, it’s sort of ever-expanding … I think teacher quality and the power of the teacher, the teaching profession needs to be completely elevated in this country. They need to be recognized as [agents of change].

E: Absolutely.

S: These are people on the front lines of social change. Our entire country depends on the teachers. We often don’t treat them like that.

E: Absolutely.

S: A whole kind of revolution around the teaching profession needs to happen.

E: I agree with you. If we look at countries that are more egalitarian, like Japan for example, teachers are heralded the same way we treat doctors and legal professionals here. There’s that same level of regard for teachers we should have because teachers are dealing with the children and the children are what push the nation forward. So, yeah.

S: Yeah, no totally. The organization I work for is all about that, elevating the teaching profession. It should be regarded at the level – exactly what you said – a lawyer, a doctor. It’s just as important, if not more important, in many ways. Teachers really need to be celebrated as heroes. They need to be paid and compensated, and given professional development opportunities so they can grow and they can be their best. There’s just a lot that needs to happen. But, I would say certainly those would be the first two things I would start with, really putting students and teachers at the forefront of this change, and respecting them as these change-makers, the highest potential for impact.

E: Wonderful. The last thing I want to know, this was your first foray into film. I think it was a really good one, personally speaking. Do you have any other projects in the work? I know you’re busy with the campaign and really establishing the grassroots movement behind Teach Us All, but did you have any other cinematic adventures that you have on the horizon?

S: Of course, I do, but nothing that I can really comment on because I haven’t really started pitching them yet, but I’m certainly working on some stuff. Some of it’s related to the work I used to do in international humanitarian relief. Some of it’s related to continuing this work in education. As soon as I get the right opportunities, I’ll hopefully be able to start pushing those projects forward too.

E: It’s been a pleasure talking with you Ms. Lowman.

~Elijah Pouges

To reserve seats for the 9/25 screening of TEACH US ALL at the IU Libraries Screening Room, visit  This free program is sponsored by the Black Film Center/Archive and presented with #DirectedbyWomen.

View the trailer online at

Free Screening: THE HOUSE ON COCO ROAD, 6/22, 7pm

On Thursday, June 22, the Black Film Center/Archive presents a free screening of The House on Coco Road.  The screening will be held at 7pm at the IU Libraries Screening Room in Wells Library.  Reservations are required and can be made online at


Directed by Damani Baker, The House on Coco Road is a compelling story about Baker’s mother, Fannie Haughton, an arising social activist in the 1960s.  The film spans Baker’s family history, his upbringing in the San Francisco Bay Area with personal connections to Angela Davis and her sister Fania Davis, to spending some of his childhood on the Caribbean island of Grenada.  Grenada initially appeared to be a paradise, marking a turning point for Haughton after witnessing the harsh prejudices that African Americans often endured in her native Oakland hometown, but Grenada’s peaceful environment was short-lived.  The government experienced political upheaval, especially regarding the prime minister’s role as a leader, as well as the position of the military.  As Grenada’s leadership changed, the Reagan administration grew concerned with Grenada’s military and political alliances, and as a result, invaded Grenada, having a profound effect on this island nation.


Damani Baker and Fannie Haughton

Baker’s film features interviews with his mother, as well as interviews with Angela Davis and Fania Davis. Baker also incorporates primary sources such as recorded tapes that he discovered, newspaper sources, and strong archival footage.  The House on Coco Road premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2016, and was announced in May 2017 as the 16th acquisition of ARRAY, a film distribution company founded by Ava DuVernay.


Filmmaker Damani Baker

Damani Baker offers this synopsis of The House on Coco Road on the film’s website:

In 1979 the Grenadian people carry out the first successful revolution in the English speaking Caribbean. Maurice Bishop becomes Prime Minister. The Revolution attracts workers from around the world including my mother, Fannie Haughton.

In 1982 Angela Davis, her family, and my mother visit Grenada to witness this miraculous Peoples’ Revolution. In 1983 my mother is offered a position in the Ministry of Education and we leave our home in Oakland and move to Grenada. I’d never seen her happier.

Grenada was briefly our home. In 1983 the United States led a military invasion following the assassination of the young popular Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop. We hid under the bed for three days as bombs shook our new paradise, and changed its course forever. Sixteen years later, in 1999, I returned to Grenada with my mother, and began shooting a documentary film, searching for her story, one that felt not just untold, but unfinished.

In 2014, I discovered a box of family super 8 footage of my great grandmother in rural Louisiana on the land our family sharecropped and my grandmother’s migration west. I started to unravel my mother’s path to activism. I started to understand why my mother, and a group of tireless women, had put their lives on the line, daring to build a better world. You may not know their names, but they have changed the course of history.

For more information about the BFC/A screening, visit our Events page at

~Jessica Ballard


BLACK CAMERA Vol. 8, No. 2 Now Available

The latest issue of Black Camera: An International Film Journal is now available in print and online from the Indiana University Press.

Black Camera Spring 2017

The current issue features two Close-Up sections: The first, #BlackLivesMatter and Media, is edited by Charles “Chip” P. Linscott and features essays by Linscott, Michele Prettyman Beverly, and Alessandra Raengo; the second, Hip-Hop Cinema, is edited by Regina N. Bradley and includes essays by Robin M. Bolorn, I. Augustus Durham, Casarae L. Gibson, Adam Haupt, Peter C. Kunze, Brandon J. Manning, and Kenton Rambsy.

Also featured in this issue are articles by James Naremore, David Scott Diffrient, and Clitha Mason; the Africultures and African Women in Cinema dossiers; book reviews; and an Archival Spotlight on community archiving with the National Black Programming Consortium.

For more information about Black Camera, please visit  To subscribe, visit

Digitizing the Richard E. Norman papers

In 2015, the Black Film Center/Archive received support from the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant program of the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct the Richard E. Norman and Race Filmmaking: Reprocessing and Digitization project, a three-pronged endeavor to reintegrate the dispersed papers of pioneering race film producer and distributor Richard E. Norman; to produce and publish a comprehensive new finding aid to the collection; and to digitize thousands of unique documents and other items in the collection for free public access online.


The Norman Collection represents one of the greatest caches of material relating to the burgeoning study of early African American movie-going culture and race films. Consisting of historical materials ranging from personal and business correspondence to censorship reports to production documentation to promotional artwork, the Norman Collection provides a corpus for scholars seeking to explore the industry of independently-produced, African American-themed films starring Black casts and exhibited to Black audiences that thrived from the late 1910s through the mid-1950s.

In the 1910s, Norman, who had previously been working in niche “Home Talent” movies, became aware of independent, underground race films being screened at Black-operated theaters throughout the segregated South and Midwest. Though he was white, he turned to race films as his principal business enterprise and produced a series of successful all-Black feature films including The Green-Eyed Monster (1919), The Bull-Dogger (1921), The Crimson Skull (1921), and The Flying Ace (1926). The films highlighted African American action and romance in what were, for their time, almost fantasy settings. The Flying Ace, for example, followed the adventures of one Captain Billy Stokes, an African American pilot in the U.S. Armed Forces, a career that was entirely inaccessible to Black men until 1940.

Norman was a meticulous record keeper in both his professional and personal life and the collection he left behind is remarkable as a near-complete record of the Norman Film Manufacturing Company, benefiting researchers of Norman specifically as well as historians of social migration, itinerant filmmaking, and the silent era race films. Beyond Norman’s substantial achievements, his well-documented relationships with the many performers, filmmakers, studios, and theater operators connected to the race circuit make this one of the most significant collections of a scarcely documented culture. Film historian Matthew H. Bernstein writes “It is impossible to overstate the importance of Norman’s papers.” Bernstein explains its value not only to film history, but to understanding “a distinct strain of black popular culture in the 20th century.” He continues, “Beyond the realm of race filmmaking, the Norman papers are the most illuminating archival resource in existence for reconstructing black film culture.”

Megan MacDonald, the Richard E. Norman project archivist, has worked with African Diasporic collections at Indiana University for nine years. Before joining the Black Film Center/Archive staff in 2015, she was an archivist for Indiana University’s Liberian Collections working with one of the largest collections of Liberian materials in the United States.

As part of this NEH-funded project, MacDonald has coordinated the reintegration of the Norman Collection, which had been distributed across two campus repositories following its donation by Norman’s son, Captain Richard Norman, in the 1980s. In this conversation from last spring, MacDonald discusses the complications and discoveries that accompany a large scale archival access project such as this.

~Dorothy Berry


Dorothy Berry: Can you tell me your position at the Black Film Center/Archive?

Megan MacDonald: Yes, I am the project archivist-slash-processing archivist for the Richard E. Norman Collection.

DB: Can you give a little background on what that collection entails?

MM: Yes, he [Norman] was a filmmaker in the 1920s, late 1910s, making at first… itinerant movies, where he would take the same movie plot and go around from city to city and film it with a new cast, a local cast, and then play it there for the townspeople to see. Then he got into race films, which were Black films for a Black audience, where the main characters were not the stereotypic slave “idiot” roles, and he made a few movies like that and was distributing those movies —  these were all silent films.Once the sound movies came about, he stopped making movies but continued to distribute movies. This collection doesn’t have any film in it, because most of it’s been lost with time. [Norman’s extant film materials were donated to the Library of Congress in the 1970s.]  [The collection] is mostly posters, and lobby cards, and photos, and all sorts of promotional materials, as well as distribution records from all the cities he traveled to. There’s a lot of correspondence. His brother was in the company with him, and his brother would be sent out to do some recruiting, to try to find theaters. It’s a little bit of everything, but no film for the film archives!


Box Office Statement for the Black Gold screening at the Royal Theater in Charlotte, NC. November 19, 1927

DB: I know the Norman collection was spread out at different repositories on the Indiana University campus, how is the reintegration process going?

MM: It’s been, for the most part, easy. It was spread out between the Lilly Library, which is the rare books library here, and the Black Film Center/Archive. It wasn’t split in obvious ways. So there’s distribution records in both places, correspondences in both places. It isn’t one series here and the rest stayed there or vice-versa. For the most part, materials have been at both collections and integrating has been pretty easy because the series are mostly the same. There’s always going to be a correspondence series in both archives, there’s always the distribution, publicity materials are always there…the subseries maybe got a little bit divided, but it was still easy to bring it back to the top level and reintegrate, and then make the subseries.

DB: Were there any exciting or compelling new discoveries during this reintegration process?

MM: Well, it was all new and exciting for me because I had never seen the collection before. Coming from an archival background that didn’t necessarily deal with media or this time frame, it just was so cool to see all the photos and have that more pop culture reference from a time frame that really doesn’t have… isn’t really well known to someone like me. So it’s been constant exciting discoveries!

DB: Have any scholars or researchers come to access the collection since you’ve begun?

MM: We have fielded a few research inquiries, like right now I’m talking to someone who has a Kickstarter-funded movie project about the Compton Cowboys, which is something I’m definitely not familiar with, but it’s like the cowboy culture in California, the Black cowboy Hollywood culture…not even Hollywood, but Compton area, going back all the way to the 1920s. He wants to use Bill Pickett, who is a famous cowboy actor from that time period and he’s in a couple of [Norman’s] movies, The Bull-Dogger and The Crimson Skull. We might be sending him some scans of the posters, and stuff to use for the film.

DD: Where is the project at currently in its timeline?

MM: We are about halfway through. The first phase was to reintegrate both the groupings into one complete collection and have it encoded in a finding aid, which we now have online. Then the start of this year we started the scanning project, which will take the rest of the grant time. Images are appearing online with the finding aid, and will continue to be added. We have two students who are working on it, and I’m working at it.

DD: Final question: the project proposal mentioned possible future digitization projects beyond this EAD finding aid and digital collection. What ideas can you envision for a project such as this?

MM: Interesting. A digital exhibit, especially something involved with film or African American history, especially where those two intersect. I’d be interested in collaborating with other repositories to do an online exhibit of materials. IU has great scholarly support with people like Cara Caddoo and Terri Francis. Hopefully we can also be involved with classes, for some sorts of online collaborative projects.


Photo from Green-Eyed Monster

[Note: A version of this article, written by Dorothy Berry and Megan MacDonald, first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Black Camera.]

Roosevelt Faulkner’s Experiences in Sweden

Last summer, I was one of several lucky students in my research lab to present at the International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (the field commonly known as CSCL) in Gothenburg, Sweden. The conference brings together education researchers, technologists, and computer scientists from all over the world to share and discuss ideas on issues ranging from designing modern learning spaces to using social media in the classroom. Not only was I geeked about my paper being accepted, I was also geeked to be going to Scandinavia. I’d heard stories and saw pictures from people’s travels, but it never crossed my mind to visit. After finding some affordable tickets on Priceline, a colleague and I landed a quaint AirBnB flat just five minutes from the conference location.  I was set to go.


I presented on  the use of mobile devices (e.g. tablet computers, mobile phones, and PDAs) in the classroom. We found several instances of studies investigating how teachers incorporate mobile devices in their lessons and these devices affect students’ learning outcomes and their collaborative behaviors. One interesting find was that tablet computers allowed for more fluid and natural interactions between group members.  Tablet computers allowed team members to face each other or freely move around in order to create a collaborative space, whereas, with laptops, students tended to be fixed in a position and had less eye contact with fellow members. Students using the tablets felt the tablets enhanced their collaboration and discussions.

The presentations were short and the atmosphere was very casual.  I was the only presenter in a tie, while the other presenters were in jeans- some with sneakers and some with casual dress shoes. This made for a different vibe I was not accustomed to. The last education conference I attended was the American Education Research Association conference in Chicago. People donned suits and the presentations had an air of hefty scholarship and cerebralness, which was starkly different at this conference in Sweden. For the tablet computer workshop, the presenters had to present using the PechaKucha format. With PechaKucha the presenter has exactly six minutes and forty seconds to present. Once time is up, the presentation closes. There were about 12-13 presentations, all showing the varying ways tablet devices were used.  Overall it was a good experience. The people were friendly and the atmosphere was relaxed.

My trip in brief:

City: Gothenburg is the second largest city in Sweden with a population of about 543,000 people living in the city proper and an additional 400,000 living in the metropolitan area. It is located on the  southwestern coast of Sweden. Gothenburg has an eclectic mix of architecture ranging from gothic to modernist styles.  The city is home to two universities- University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University of Technology- and annual film and music festivals.  It has a strong shipping and fishing industry, and it is the birthplace of Volvo.

Food and drinks: The food is delicious and really fresh, while the alcoholic beverages are pricy.. To my surprise, 7/11 had cheap and delicious prepared meals, unlike the ones in the States. If you have access to a kitchen, buying a few groceries would help cut down the costs of eating out. If you have a sweet tooth, Sweden is the the place to indulge in sweet desires. If the coffee cake during Fika, the Swedish word for afternoon coffee and dessert break, isn’t enough, or you want to stock up for the month, check out their candy shops. They are literally brick and mortar candylands.  Once you walk in, your jaw drops, your pupils dilate, and you salivate at the sight of aisles of delightful colorful and mouth watering treats from Swedish gummies to chocolates to hard candies.


Money: The currency is known as the Krona with the abbreviation  SEK(Swedish Krona). It is  worth slightly more than the dollar; A 100 SEK is equivalent to 1.14 USD. Nowadays, US bank cards can be used overseas, especially those with the chip. Though this can be useful if you have a lot of transactions, one must be forewarned that a conversion fee may be assessed. Check your bank for details. Carrying cash is optional but best to have some for emergencies and small purchases.roosevelt3

To do: I like visual art, so I always make it a point to find an art museum.  Take your student ID because most of the time the museum offers student discounts. Explore! We walked around exploring areas to find new restaurants and bars after conference hours. Only if I had Pokemon Go then!


Getting around was easy.  You can walk, bike, or take public transportation everywhere. They have dedicated bike-only pathways throughout the city.  They also have a tram system that runs until 12 am.

Communication: BUY THE INTERNATIONAL PLAN or check to see if your phone plan includes international calls.  If this is not the case, something as small as texting can have an exorbitant cost.  I racked up $400 in charges between texting and checking social media sites. Luckily I was able to get the charges reversed after retroactively purchasing the $30 international plan. What a relief!


Roosevelt Faulkner is a graduate student in the School of Education and research assistant in the Conundrums, Complex Systems, Collaborations, and Computers Lab (4C). In addition to his research work, Roosevelt works at the Black Film Center/Archive assisting with the blog, and designing promotional materials.

Jessie Maple’s Twice as Nice at IU Cinema, Sunday, Jan. 29

On Sunday, January 29, Jessie Maple and Leroy Patton will visit Bloomington to present Jessie’s 1989 feature, Twice as Nice, at the Indiana University Cinema.  The 3:00 pm screening is free but ticketed.  Professor emerita and former Black Film Center/Archive director Audrey McCluskey will introduce the film and host a Q&A with Jessie and Leroy following the film.


Recently preserved by the Black Film Center/Archive through a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, Twice as Nice follows twins Caren and Camilla Parker, both star players on a college women’s basketball team energized by the prospect of a first female pick in the upcoming “MBA” draft. Maple looks again here to the strength of community and family, as in her first feature, the groundbreaking Will (1981).

Maple’s cast, composed largely of non-professional actors, features legends of NCAA, Olympic, and WNBA basketball.  Among them are Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, and twins Pamela and Paula McGee.

As we look ahead to this weekend’s visit, take a look back at our earlier post “Into the Archive: Exploring the Jessie Maple Collection” for a glimpse into the personal collection placed at the BFC/A by Jessie in 2005.