It’s a mighty impressive and jaw-dropping stunner of an exhibition as you walk through and immerse yourself into the world of “Regeneration: Black Cinema, 1898–1971.” Pride and grandeur of a glorious, near-forgotten and thriving Black cinema in the early years of American filmmaking, pulsates through the massive 11,000-square-foot Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg Gallery on the fourth floor at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. 

The ambitious, meticulously crafted exhibition, which debuted on Aug. 21, 2022 and will be on view through April 9, 2023, is a revelatory experience, and explores the achievements and challenges of Black filmmakers in the U.S. in both independent production and the studio system—in front of the camera and behind it—from cinema’s infancy in the 1890s to the early 1970s. It includes rarely seen excerpts of films, documentaries, newsreels, and home movies, as well as historical photographs, costumes, props, and posters. 

The exhibition, co-curated by Doris Berger, vice president of curatorial affairs at the Academy Museum, and Rhea L. Combs, director of curatorial affairs at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, was much-needed and extremely essential to be seen by the world.

“This landmark exhibition seeks to restore lost chapters of American film history as it elevates the contributions of Black artists to present a more inclusive story,” said the Academy Museum’s recently appointed Director and President Jacqueline Stewart. “We are incredibly proud to present ‘Regeneration, an exhibition that demonstrates how the Academy Museum shares new scholarship, offers a more expansive vision of American film history, and encourages public dialogue about the past and present of film as an art form and a social force.” 

Co-curators Berger and Combs said, “It has been a great honor for us to curate ‘Regeneration, a project that challenged us to do justice to the lives and work of nearly a century of Black filmmakers and the audiences they served. The legacies explored in these galleries were important in their own time, though too often neglected and marginalized, they remain vital today. We hope to heighten awareness of these films and film artists and encourage an appreciation of the many, many contributions that African Americans have made to cinema.” 

“Regeneration” will also feature contemporary artworks referencing the impact of the legacy of Black filmmaking and AR elements designed for the exhibition. The exhibition will be accompanied by a range of film screenings, including world premieres of films newly restored by the Academy Film Archive, an interactive microsite with supplemental content, a robust curriculum to engage high school students and teachers, and a fully illustrated catalog featuring the writing of leading filmmakers, scholars and the co-curators. 

Along with Combs and Berger, the “Regeneration” team includes Academy Museum’s J. Raúl Guzmán, as assistant curator, as well as Manouchka Kelly Labouba and Emily Rauber Rodriguez, as research assistants. Multiple film series are organized by Bernardo Rondeau, senior director of film programs for the Academy Museum, and a future exhibition film series will be guest- programmed by Black Film Archive creator and curator Maya Cade. 

“Regeneration” comprises seven galleries dedicated to exploring the social and political situation of Black Americans at the dawn of filmmaking; the presence and images of Black people in early cinema beginning in 1898; pioneering independent Black filmmakers such as Oscar Micheaux and so-called “race films” from the 1910s to the 1940s; Black music in American film, including “soundies” and Black musicals of the 1920s and 1940s; Black stars and film icons from the 1920s through the 1950s; and freedom movements in the 1950s and 1960s. The concluding gallery in “Regeneration” pays tribute to five Black directors active from the 1960s onward: Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks, William Greaves, Madeline Anderson, and Robert L. Goodwin. 

Ava DuVernay––filmmaker, member of the Academy Board of Governors, and “Regeneration” Advisory Panel––summed up the importance of this historic exhibition: “Black Cinema has always been present in American film right from the start––not as caricatures but as creators, innovators, producers, and eager audiences. It’s 2022, but for the first time we can see the grand sweep of Black cinematic history in all its richness, defiance and exuberance.”For a more comprehensive resource and information on the “Regeneration: Black Cinema, 1898–1971” exhibition at the Academy Museum visit https://www.regenerationblackcinema.org/ and https://www.academymuseum.org/en/exhibitions/regeneration-black-cinema

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