The end of uplift cinema in both its northern and southern versions occurred
in the late 1910s. The northern entrepreneurs who began making films for Black
audiences struggled in the mainstream film industry and largely abandoned
their entrepreneurial endeavors, finding work in various capacities in support-
ing rather than autonomous roles. In the south, the debacle caused by The
Birth of a Nation led Hampton to be far more cautious with its filmmaking.
Furthermore, the U.S. involvement in World War I resulted in the redirection
of Hampton’s and Tuskegee’s energies toward proving African American patri-
otism and fitness for contributing to the war effort. These practical issues were
met with a larger shift in cultural and political priorities for African Ameri-
cans. With the death of Booker T. Washington, the “Representative Man,” the
uplift movement that had been a focal point splintered and became decentral-
ized. The uplift philosophy, once the dominant—and dominating—strategy for
the advancement of the race was increasingly criticized and was challenged by
competing theories and programs. However, the strength of uplift’s hold on the
social psyche (both Black and white) meant that its influence continued even
as its strategies and forms were picked up elsewhere.
Despite its relatively short moment of productivity, uplift cinema did not
disappear. Even if no more uplift films were being made, the idea was none-
theless generative of a number of practices that would emerge more fully in the
ensuing decades. Indeed, reconsidered in the light of a fuller understanding of
uplift cinema, the genealogy of Black filmmaking shows that the legacy of this
early moment goes beyond its immediate contexts and reverberates in signifi-
cant ways across history. Uplift cinema points to the complicated landscape
of moving pictures in the 1920s and afterward, including sponsored films and
theatrical entertainments, local filmmaking and useful cinema, and—most im-
portantly—hybrids of these forms. Understood in this way, uplift cinema is
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