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African-Americans and Silent Films

1. Origins to 1928

3. 1915–1928

  1. Paula J. Massood

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf009

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Massood, P. J. 2011. African-Americans and Silent Films. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 1:3:9.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


Histories of African-American participation in American silent film often cite D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) as the defining moment in black cinematic representation. The film's myths of black inferiority and the sanctity of white nationhood seemed almost nostalgic at a moment of national growth and change, of which the new film technology was a part. At the same time, its images of black brutes lasciviously chasing innocent white women and a congressional hall filled with barefoot, chicken-eating black coons solidified a number of myths that appealed to a young nation furiously attempting to define itself in the face of increasing immigration from abroad, the massive growth of urban industrial areas (and the attendant loss of an agrarian culture), and the threat of world war.


  • African-American film;
  • silent film;
  • race cinema;
  • independent cinema;
  • Oscar Micheaux