Production still from Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day Project. 1913. Odessa Warren Grey and Bert Williams

Unedited footage for an unreleased black-cast feature film, originally shot in 1913 and recently discovered in MoMA’s Biograph collection, are the subject of this installation. New York producers Klaw & Erlanger mounted the untitled project at virtually the same time that D. W. Griffith began his racist epic The Birth of a Nation, but they abandoned the seven reels of exposed film in postproduction, leaving buried within it unique photographic documentation of its black cast and white crew on the set. Starring the legendary Caribbean American musical theater performer and recording artist Bert Williams (1874–1922), the abandoned film also includes Harlem-based entertainment pioneers Sam Lucas, Abbie Mitchell, and J. Leubrie Hill, along with members of his Darktown Follies stage company. Blending minstrel and contemporary performance styles in its telling of recycled race narratives, the work documents the effort by a community of virtuoso performers to achieve increased visibility in a time of segregation. Using a series of digital moving-image excerpts from the 35mm camera negative and still frames recovered from the unassembled material, this premiere installation stages a close reading of suppressed moments from the struggle for minority access to visual media.

Organized by Ron Magliozzi, Associate Curator, Department of Film.

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