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Silent Films

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SILENT FILMS. At the birth of motion pictures in the late 1890s, this exciting new technology was relegated to a pure visual experience. Later, title cards with the actor’s lines and pertinent story information were spliced in between the images to move the plot forward while live piano or organ music accompanied this neoteric form of entertainment. The first filmed images of African Americans were nothing more than degrading coon shows, often with white actors performing comic dance routines in blackface. In Chicago, vaudeville booking agent William Foster was the first African American to take his filmed image into his own hands when he produced The Railroad Porter , 1912. After the deplorable depiction of blacks in Birth of a Nation , 1915, several other African American producers mobilized to counteract the negativity of the portrayals. These included Noble Johnson ‘s Realization of a Negroes Ambition , 1916, Emmitt Scott ’s, The Birth of a Race , 1918, and Oscar Micheaux ’s The Homesteader , 1918. Although the company was white owned, the Norman Film Manufacturing Company contributed several silent films, including The Crimson Skull , 1921, and The Flying Ace , 1926. Toward the end of the silent era, husband and wife evangelists James and Eloyce Gist released their faith based Hellbound Train , 1929. The high cost of sound picture technology forced most early silent film production companies to close down.

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