Three African-American Films Added to Library of Congress National Film Registry

in Entertainment

By The Charleston Chronicle

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden recently announced the annual selection of 25 of America’s most influential motion pictures to be inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress because of their cultural, historic and aesthetic importance to the nation’s film heritage. These films range from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and Paul Newman’s unforgettable “Hud” to the opulent musical “My Fair Lady” and the rocking sounds of “Monterey Pop.” Selection to the registry will help ensure that these films will be preserved for all time.

“The National Film Registry turns 30 this year and for those three decades, we have been recognizing, celebrating and preserving this distinctive medium,” Hayden said. “These cinematic treasures must be protected because they document our history, culture, hopes and dreams.”

A forbidden love affair, the ravages of alcoholism, an animated classic, a kiss that broke the color barrier and dinosaurs returned from extinction represent the diversity of the class of 2018. This year’s films span 107 years, from 1898 to 2005. They include blockbusters, documentaries, silent movies, animation and independent films. The 2018 selections bring the number of films in the registry to 750, which is a small fraction of the Library’s vast moving-image collection of more than 1.3 million. Also, select titles from 30 years of the National Film Registry are also freely available online in the National Screening Room.

Among this year’s selections are Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 thriller “Rebecca”; film noir classics “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945) and “The Lady From Shanghai” (1947), which was directed by Orson Welles; Disney’s 1950 animation “Cinderella”; “Days of Wine and Roses,” Blake Edwards’ uncompromising commentary about alcoholism (1962); James L. Brooks’ 1987 treatise on the tumultuous world of television news, “Broadcast News” and Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking 1993 tale about the rebirth of dinosaurs, “Jurassic Park.”

Two contemporary Western dramas headline this year’s list: the 1961 “One-Eyed Jacks,” Marlon Brando’s only directorial endeavor, and Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed “Brokeback Mountain.” Released in 2005, “Brokeback Mountain” also has the distinction of becoming the newest film on the registry while the 1891 “Newark Athlete” actuality is the oldest.

“I didn’t intend to make a statement with ‘Brokeback Mountain,’” Lee said. “I simply wanted to tell a purely Western love story between two cowboys. To my great surprise, the film ended up striking a deep chord with audiences; the movie became a part of the culture, a reflection of the darkness and light—of violent prejudice and enduring love—in the rocky landscape of the American heart. More than a decade has passed since ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was released, but I hope that this film, a small movie with wide open spaces, continues to express something both fresh and fundamental about my adopted country.”

Music is spotlighted in the popular 1949 musical “On the Town,” starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin as three sailors on shore leave in New York City. Also included is the seminal music-festival film “Monterey Pop,” featuring some of the biggest names in music. It was directed by D.A. Pennebaker and produced by John Phillips and Lou Adler.

“I am extremely pleased and proud as I am sure John Phillips would be that ‘Monterey Pop’ has been selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry,” said Adler. “Pleased that the film brings recognition to the artists involved in a cultural explosion of music festivals and celebrates a generation in tune with music and love.

Proud to have collaborated with D.A. Pennebaker who crafted a film that perfectly documented the time, the music and introduced a genre of film making to be honored forever…long after June 16, 17 and 18, 1967 as proven by this selection.”

“It was for us a vast undertaking,” Pennebaker said.  “We were using all five of our homemade cameras, some with twelve hundred foot reels we’d never tried before, praying they’d all work, and that it turned out as wonderful as it did I can still scarcely believe. But every camera was guided by an artist, some for the first time, looking for the poetry of the music and its artists as never before. It was an inspired crew and every member of it earned this selection into the National Film Registry. They were the best.”

Several films on the registry showcased the ethnic diversity of American cinema. Footage from the Dixon-Wanamaker expedition in 1908 provides glimpses into the lives and culture of various Native American tribes. This year’s list also includes a contemporary film showcasing Native Americans in “Smoke Signals” (1998). It was the first feature film to be written, directed and co-produced by American Indians.

The 1997 “Eve’s Bayou” was written and directed by black female director Kasi Lemmons and co-produced by Samuel L. Jackson, who stars in this family drama. “It’s such an honor to return from production on my fifth film, ‘Harriet,’ to find that my first, ‘Eve’s Bayou,’ is being included in the National Film Registry,” Lemmons said. “As a Black woman filmmaker it is particularly meaningful to me, and to future generations of filmmakers, that the Library of Congress values diversity of culture, perspective and expression in American cinema and recognizes ‘Eve’s Bayou’ as worthy of preservation. I’m thrilled that ‘Eve’s Bayou’ is being included in the class of 2018!”

The short animated film, “Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People,” was produced by one of the first black female animators, Ayoka Chenzira. “For my independently produced animated experimental film to be included in the National Film Registry is quite an honor,” said Chenzira. “I never imagined that ‘Hair Piece’ would be considered to have cultural significance outside of its original intent, which was a conversation and a love letter to Black women (and some men) about identity, beauty and self-acceptance in the face of tremendous odds.”

African-Americans are also shown kissing in a 29-second silent film. Shot in 1898, it is the earliest known footage of black intimacy on screen. Other silent film titles include the 1917 “The Girl Without a Soul” and Buster Keaton’s 1924 “The Navigator.” In 2013, the Library of Congress released a report that conclusively determined that 70 percent of the nation’s silent feature films have been lost forever and only 14 percent exist in their original 35 mm format.

“The Informer,” the 1935 drama that takes place during the Irish Rebellion of 1922, becomes the 11thfilm directed by John Ford to be named to the registry, the most of any other director. Other titles on the registry include the 1953 “Pickup on South Street,” the 1955 “Bad Day at Black Rock” and the Academy Award-winning Vietnam documentary “Hearts and Minds” (1974), directed by Peter Davis.

Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names to the National Film Registry 25 motion pictures that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant. The films must be at least 10 years old. More information about the National Film Registry can be found at loc.gov/film.

The Librarian makes the annual registry selections after conferring with the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) and a cadre of Library specialists. Also considered were more than 6,300 titles nominated by the public.  Nominations for next year will be accepted through the fall at loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/nominate/.

In addition to advising the Librarian of Congress on the annual selection titles to the National Film Registry, the NFPB also provides counsel on national preservation planning policy. In that capacity, it issued the following statement: “In addition to its preservation message, the NFPB encourages colleges and universities to enhance their focus on the history of cinema as an original and integrated art. Visual storytelling has grown from its early 20th-century origins to become a literary medium that needs more recognition.”

Many titles named to the registry have already been preserved by the copyright holders, filmmakers or other archives. In cases where a selected title has not already been preserved, the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation works to ensure that the film will be preserved by some entity and available for future generations, either through the Library’s motion picture preservation program or through collaborative ventures with other archives, motion picture studios and independent filmmakers.

The Packard Campus is a state-of-the-art facility where the nation’s library acquires, preserves and provides access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of films, television programs, radio broadcasts and sound recordings (loc.gov/avconservation/). It is home to more than 7 million collection items.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.

Eve’s Bayou (1997)
Written and directed by Kasi Lemmons and co-produced by co-star Samuel L. Jackson, “Eve’s Bayou” proved one of the indie surprises of the 1990s. The film tells a Southern gothic tale about a 10-year-old African-American girl who, during one long, hot Louisiana summer in 1962, discovers some harsh truths beneath her genteel family’s fragile façade.

The film’s standout cast includes Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Diahann Carroll, Lisa Nicole Carson, Branford Marsalis and the remarkable Jurnee Smollett, who plays the lead. The tag line of this film was very apropos: “The secrets that hold us together can also tear us apart.”

Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People (1984)
“Hair Piece” is an insightful and funny short animated film examining the problems that African-American women have with their hair. Generally considered the first black woman animator, director Ayoka Chenzira was a key figure in the development of African-American filmmakers in the 1980s through her own films and work to expand opportunities for others. Writing in the New York Times, critic Janet Maslin lauded this eccentric yet jubilant film. She notes the narrator “tells of everything from the difficulty of keeping a wig on straight to the way in which Vaseline could make a woman’s hair ”sound like the man in ‘The Fly’ saying ‘Help me!’

Something Good – Negro Kiss (1898)
According to scholars and archivists, this recently discovered 29-second film may represent the earliest example of African-American intimacy on-screen. American cinema was a few years old by 1898 and distributors struggled to entice audiences to this new medium. Among their gambits to find acceptable “risqué” fare, the era had a brief run of “kissing” films. Most famous is the 1896 Edison film “The Kiss,” which spawned a rash of mostly inferior imitators. However, in “Something Good,” the chemistry between vaudeville actors Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown was palpable. Also noteworthy is this film’s status as the earliest known surviving Selig Polyscope Company film. The Selig Company had a good run as a major American film producer from its founding in 1896 until its ending around 1918.“Something Good” exists in a 19th-century nitrate print from the University of Southern California Hugh Hefner Moving Image Archive. USC Archivist Dino Everett and Dr. Allyson Nadia Field of the University of Chicago discovered and brought this important film to the attention of scholars and the public. Field notes, “What makes this film so remarkable is the non-caricatured representation and naturalistic performance of the couple. As they playfully and repeatedly kiss, in a seemingly improvised performance, Suttle and Brown constitute a significant counter to the racist portrayal of African Americans otherwise seen in the cinema of its time. This film stands as a moving and powerful image of genuine affection, and is a landmark of early film history.”

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle

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