Talk 2/23: The Representation of African Americans in Silent Film


In this talk, Dr. Lupack will discuss how silent cinema established and perpetuated unfortunate stereotypes that exacerbated contemporary racial fears and ethnic prejudices and helped to define the way that African Americans were perceived. In contrast, a select group of independent filmmakers produced “race films” primarily for the Black community. Significantly, those race films—which starred Black actors, emphasized Black issues and concerns, and were shown primarily to Black audiences in race theaters—offered alternative images and challenged mainstream producers to strive for more balanced racial portrayals in their pictures.

Barbara Tepa Lupack, former Fulbright Professor of American Literature in Poland and in France and Academic Dean at SUNY, served as New York State Public Scholar (2015-2018), during which time she lectured across the state on silent and race filmmaking. She is author or editor of more than twenty-five books, including Literary Adaptations in Black American Cinema: From Micheaux to Morrison (UR Press, 2002; rev. and exp., 2010); Early Race Filmmaking in America (Routledge, 2016); Richard E. Norman and Early Race Filmmaking (Indiana UP, 2014) and, most recently The Wharton Brothers and the Magic of Early Cinema, published by Cornell University Press (2020).