By Susan Linington
In Motion Staff Writer
African-American filmmakers during the 1920s explode on the silent screen for the remainder of March as part of the Black History Films Series at Daytona State College. Titled “First Fight. Then Fiddle: Black Identity in America Cinema 1920-2016,” the series includes a newly discovered treasure trove of racially driven films from the silent film era.
Photography Professor Eric Breitenbach is presenting the series in the Madorsky Theater at the Hosseini Center every Wednesday at 2 and 6 p.m. After the 6 p.m. show there’s an open mic debate about each film where the audience’s opinion counts. Some of the films are silent and some are documentaries.
“They are straight, ethical American journalism,” said Breitenbach, adding that he was looking for a pioneer of black history films with racial issues.
What he found were undiscovered films that need to be seen. For example, the film “Within Our Gates” produced by Oscar Micheaux showcases the first African-American film producer dedicated to educating about the culture of slavery. First released in Spanish and then translated back to English in 1925, it’s a story about an adopted white girl named Silvia raised by a black family in the south of Boston. Silvia was a teacher dedicated to opening a school for slaves. Showing both sides of the North and the South during the time of slavery, the film portrays deceit, love, hope and death with both black and white entwined together.
For the audience of some 20 people in the Madorsky, it was an eye-opener to the reality of black history like few Black History Month programs could explain. Lynchings, injustice and the lasting legacy of slavery’s roots were all themes in the 79-minute silent film.
Guest speaker Ben Graydon — the Assistant Chair of the School of Humanities and Communication and DSC English Professor — said, “People today have respect for black history, a history that can finally be a part of our culture and our lives.”
Naomi Berlin one the community moviegoers said, “I am interested in the silent films, it came alive for me and I could relate to those times when my grandparents owned a grocery in New Jersey, there was a different feeling all around us.”
Other films in the lineup have included “Two Knights of Vaudeville,” “Ten Nights in a Bar Room” and the story of the Ku Klux Klan, the latter also directed by Micheaux.
Micheaux was an African-American filmmaker whose movies challenged racial segregation at a time when such stances might result in vigilante justice. Nevertheless, he offered an alternative outlet for black moviegoers by writing, producing and directing more than 40 films from 1919 to 1948, many of which have been lost. Some of his actors included his second wife Alice B. Russell, Lorenzo Tucker and Bee Freeman and he also worked with Paul Robeson in what was the actor’s screen debut, 1925’s “Body and Soul.”
The series continues through April with the following screenings: March 8, “The Scar of Shame,” directed by Frank Perugini (1929); March 22, “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” directed by Stanley Nelson (2015); March 29, “Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay (2014); April 5, “4 Little Girls,” directed by Spike Lee (1997); April 12, “Welcome to Pine Hill,” directed by Keith Miller (2012).; and April 19, “Bamboozled,” directed by Spike Lee (2000).