Nothing has done so much to awaken the race consciousness of the colored
man in the United States as the motion picture. It has made him hungry to see
him self as he has come to be.—WILLIAM FOSTER, “News of the Moving Picture”
Writing in the Indianapolis Freeman in 1913, the filmmaker William Foster ex-
presses a kind of critique common in African American newspapers through-
out the 1910s. He assesses the contemporary status of African American rep-
resentation in moving pictures and the “resentment” that Black moviegoers
feel against their egregious misrepresentation “presented everywhere.” Fos-
ter attributes the “hunger” of Black moviegoers for self- recognition to a di-
rect response to the prevalence of grotesque caricatures of African Ameri-
cans on American screens. Drawing on the uplift philosophy’s emphasis on
self- reliance, Foster then shifts from a critique of misrepresentation to a call
for self- representation. Although he celebrates Black movie patrons’ protests
against such images, he argues for film production “for ourselves in our own
best way and for our own best good.” For Foster, as for many others, the goal
was not to rely on white filmmakers to change their characterization of Black
people but to provide a model for Black filmmakers—and an emerging Black
filmmaking practice—that would avoid the representational problems evident
in mainstream films. In his article, Foster captures the power of moving images
and their potential for resistance and affirmation.1
In the early decades of the twentieth century, moving pictures served as
both a mechanism for the misrepresentation of Black humanity and a tool
for asserting it. The former use has persisted, and its history is well docu-
mented. However, too little is known about early endeavors toward Black self-
representation in moving pictures, or the ways in which this dynamic medium
served the interests of African American advancement. To fill this gap, this
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