Articles: Black Film Pioneers Sought




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Sandra Evers-Manly

LOS ANGELES - Wanted! Are you or do you know a pioneer African American who worked in front of the camera or behind the scenes during the "Golden Age of Race Movies" or in mainstream Hollywood films through the 1950s?
   The Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center is intensifying its nationwide search for those living African-American actors and technicians who were a part of the era of all-black cast films or featured in or worked behind the scenes for Hollywood productions from the early 1930s through the 1950s.
    "We hope to contact as many living black pioneers of filmmaking as possible," says Sandra Evers-Manly, BHERC president, "so that we may honor them and, in their own words, document that little known and documented era in not only African-American but also American cultural history."
    Once contacted, the black film pioneers will be invited to "A Great Day in Black Hollywood," a two-day gala celebration and reunion, designed to spotlight their stellar accomplishments in film and television, says Evers-Manly. The reunion will become the focus of a book and possible video.
    The BHERC is asking that black film pioneers, who performed in or participated in the production of all-black cast films or Hollywood films featuring blacks, contact the Center, providing phone numbers and addresses.
    The BHERC is also seeking historic photos, posters and other memorabilia related to the era of so-called "race movies," those films produced almost exclusively for a black audience, and those early Hollywood films which featured black actors.
    "We want to celebrate those black film pioneers who are still with us," says Evers-Manly. "We want them to know that we appreciate their contributions in offering truer insights into the African-American experience. They created in a hostile environment and still excelled, offering brilliant performances, and struggled to tear down racial barriers and open doors and lead the way for the young filmmakers of today."
    Names that should be legend in the history of American filmmaking - Oscar Micheaux, Spencer Williams, Ethel Waters, Jeni LeGon, Paul Robeson, and many more - are too often unknown, even in the black community.
    In October 1998, the BHERC honored black film pioneer dancer/actress Jeni LeGon, once billed as "Hollywood's Chocolate Princess," as part of its annual "African American Film Marketplace and S.E. Manly Short Film Showcase." LeGon appeared as a dancer or actress in more than 15 films during the 1930s and 1940s, and performed in some of the leading national and international clubs
   and venues, including the Lincoln Theatre, Café de Paris, and Harlem's famed Apollo Theater. The first black woman to sign a movie contract with MGM Studios, LeGon appeared in "While Thousands Cheer," "Easter Parade," and "Hi-De-Ho." The event drew more than 50 black film pioneers who turned out to honor LeGon.
    BHERC also paid special tribute to Lillian Cumber - celebrating her 80th birthday, who in 1958 became the first black female Hollywood movie and television agent. She is credited with selling the first script by an African-American screenwriter to network television in 1968. Cumber was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1974, and included in the "Ninth Edition of Who's Who of American Women" in 1975.
    "We will not only promote more African Americans as artists but also begin a 'New Era' in the documentation of the African American experience," says Evers-Manly.
   Founded in 1996, the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center is a nonprofit, public benefit organization designed to advocate, educate, research, develop, and preserve the history and future of Blacks in film and television. The primary function of the organization is to preserve and foster the important role that Blacks have played and are playing in film and television.
    For more information about BHERC programs, call (323) 957-4747; write BHERC at 1888 Century Park East, Suite 1900, Los Angeles, CA 90067-2199; or visit the BHERC Web site:

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