The Lucas Museum Has Purchased a National Cultural Treasure: An Archive of Early Black Cinema

African American Art Archive BELatina
Editorial use only. No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock (5884871m) Spike Lee Do The Right Thing - 1989 Director: Spike Lee Universal USA Scene Still Drama

Imagine more than 30,000 objects including film posters, photographs, comics, illustrations, and more that tell the story of African American cinema since 1904, are at your disposal in a new museum-curated format.

Well, this is precisely what George Lucas has acquired.

In order to feed the collection of his Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles, the creator of Star Wars bought one of the most important art collections in the history of 20th-century American popular culture, entitled The Separate Cinema Archive. 

According to the institution’s statement, its halls (still under construction in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park) will house all kinds of “rare objects,” including “a major selection of original film posters, lobby cards, film stills, publicity material, scripts, an extensive reference library, and more.”

“As one of the premier narrative art forms of the 20th and 21st centuries, film and the filmmaking process are central to the Lucas Museum mission,” the institution said in a statement, assuring that the goal of the new museum is “to present a more inclusive history about the making and selling of feature films.”

With all-black casts, producers, and directors, the African-American film industry known as “race film” from 1910 to 1950 has a “complicated and porous” history, according to UCLA’s Reconstructing the History of Silent Race Films project.

“Most people agree that race film is, at some level, about African-American self-determination: race films are those in which African-Americans articulate their own identities,” it adds.

Films such as A Trip to Tuskegee (1909), John Henry at Hampton (1913), or A Day at Tuskegee (1913) by Booker T. Washington represent a unique and irreplaceable testimony of a reality often recorded from a privileged perspective.

Similarly, companies like The Foster Photoplay Company, the Afro-American Film Company, and the Hunter C. Haynes Photoplay Company were the niches of a movement that sought to tell the story of the community from its own experience.

It was the archivist and photographer John Duke Kisch who “meticulously built and preserved this impressive collection,” the Lucas Museum statement adds. Previously, the collection toured several film festivals and art institutions and was part of a book published by Kisch in 2014.

Now acquired by the Lucas Museum, these 37,000 pieces will be added to 100,000 more that constitute one of the most important artistic enterprises of the last decades.

“The Separate Cinema Archive will not only provide film scholars with incredible opportunities for research, this treasure trove will also catalyze important conversations about the inspiring narratives of African American perspectives represented through film,” said Lucas Museum director and CEO Sandra Jackson-Dumont in a statement.

Under Jackson-Dumont’s direction, the institution will hold a public event to celebrate Black History Month with screenings of such iconic films as The Wiz (1978) and Do the Right Thing (1989) at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza’s Cinemark Theater.

Once opened, the museum will present its permanent collection, as well as rotating exhibitions, looking for an “in-depth exploration of the arts of filmmaking.” It will also provide educational programs within the premises of an ambitious architectural project designed by renowned architect Ma Yansong.