Academy Museum Unveils Inaugural Exhibition Honouring Black Contributions to Film

Academy Museum Unveils Inaugural Exhibition Honouring Black Contributions to Film

Regeneration: Black Cinema 1900-1970 won’t open until 2020, but it’s already gaining interest. The exhibition will explore the visual culture of Black cinema in its manifold expressions from its early days to just beyond the Civil Rights movement. Co-curated by Doris Berger, Acting Head of Curatorial Affairs and Exhibitions Curator at the Academy Museum, and Rhea Combs, Supervisory Curator of Photography and Film at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), it will be the first exhibition of its kind—a research-driven, in-depth look at Black participation in American filmmaking. In addition to offering a critical exploration of Hollywood productions, Regeneration will highlight the work of independent African-American filmmakers and create dialogues with visual artists. The exhibition’s goal is to redefine American film history as it elevates this under-represented aspect of artistic production and presents a more inclusive story.

The exhibition is the proud recipient of the 2018 Sotheby’s Prize, an annual award that supports and encourages museums to break new ground. The grant aims to recognize curatorial excellence and to facilitate an upcoming exhibition that will explore overlooked or underrepresented areas of art history. The Sotheby’s Prize is awarded by a jury of esteemed museum curators and directors comprising Sir Nicholas Serota, Donna De Salvo, Okwui Enwezor, Connie Butler, Emilie Gordenker, and chaired by Allan Schwartzman.

Regeneration also is made possible in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Academy Film Archive restorations are funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Image: The Nicholas Brothers in a scene from Stormy Weather (1943), Fayard Nicholas, left, and Harold Nicholas, photographic print, gelatin silver.

According to Connie Butler, chief curator of the Hammer Museum, “the exhibit comes at a moment when issues of representation—of the under-representation of people of colour, of women, of Black filmmakers and artists—are so important and so urgent.”

“We are very interested in ‘revisionist’ looks at film history, exploring inclusion and representation,” said Academy Museum director Kerry Brougher. He hopes, will be reflected throughout the museum, including how the long-term collections are presented. Portions of the central exhibition, Where Dreams Are Made: A Journey Inside the Movies, will call out the contributions of women and people of colour in film, and there will be floor space dedicated to global film production outside the Hollywood system.

The long-awaited museum is now slated to open in late 2019. Primary construction on much of the 300,000-square-foot complex is now done, but there are still interior elements to design and details to finish. Once done, the museum will include the totally retrofitted 1939 May Company Building–now known as the Saban Building–as well as the new glass structure known as the Sphere Building.

Inside will be six distinct gallery spaces, an education studio, and an expansive rooftop deck (with a perfectly framed view of the Hollywood sign, of course) which may host art installations, outdoor movies, or other programming in the future. Two theatres, one seating 1,000 and a second seating 288, will host daily screenings, and will be set up to accommodate not only state-of-the-art digital projection, but also 16-, 35-, and 70-millimetre analog film, and even archival nitrate film, so viewers can watch historic movies just as they would have originally appeared.

One of the only museums dedicated to cinema in the world, the collection on display will draw from a massive collection of props, screenplays, production art, marketing materials, film and video recordings, and historical film technology, like Mary Pickford’s own film camera and displays of Louis and Auguste Lumière’s earliest projection inventions. Preserving the memory that there was a time before film technology was omnipresent and taken for granted is part of the museum’s mission.

“If you had asked me even ten years ago if I thought the history of film was disappearing, I would have said no,” Brogher said. “But increasingly, those early days of cinema are fading. It takes a very different kind of museum to understand and preserve this art form.”

At the same time, however, the museum is also tasked with reminding visitors that cinema  (and, by extension, the Academy itself, perhaps) is relevant and innovative today, and not something locked in a glass display case with Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

“I hear every once in a while that cinema is waning, but I think it’s about to become something new,” Brogher remarks. “And because of that, this might be the best time to open a museum, because we’re at the pivotal moment.”

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