Juli, Luther, and Oscar: Chicago’s Role in the History of Race Movies

Last week, I wrote about Chicago’s role in the birth of the mainstream film industry, which is most often treated as a footnote in text books and film histories. Even less known is the city’s importance to the development of an African American cinema in which black entrepreneurs made movies for black audiences. While there are several scholarly studies on the development of an African American cinema, and many of them chronicle the early pioneers, the whole story has yet to creep into coffee-table film histories or filter into the popular consciousness.

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Broncho Billy, Colonel Selig, and an Unreconstructed Confederate: Chicago’s Role in Film History

This past week a bright and charming grade-schooler interviewed me about Chicago’s place in film history. He was knee deep in producing a documentary for his school’s history fair, and I was one of the people he interviewed on camera. I am always thrilled when young people exhibit an interest in the cinema of the past, let alone an era that predates Hollywood as the hub of the industry. The experience was doubly enjoyable because not only was it fun to help out, but in prepping for the interview, I uncovered and re-discovered some fun facts about my adopted city and its place in the history of film.  As a matter of fact, I found so much that I am going to divide the information into two posts, continuing the saga next week. Much of this detail is omitted from standard film texts, which tend to travel the path of history as it threads through the industry centers of Hollywood and New York.

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