Black Film Center Archive

Black film advocate Mary Perry Smith donates large collection to IU’s Black Film Center/Archive

Saturday, April 19, 2014

(Source: News, Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, Indiana University.

The Indiana University Black Film Center/Archive has received a donated collection from black film advocate and lifelong educator Mary Perry Smith, co-founder of the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

Smith, born in Evansville, Ind., in 1926 and who currently lives in Oakland, Calif., donated the collection after meeting in 2013 with Michael T. Martin, director of the Black Film Center/Archive, and archivist Brian Graney. Smith recalled that the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame had influenced the establishment of the Black Film Center/Archive in 1981, and said she had provided early mentorship to the center’s founding director, Phyllis Klotman.

This unique collection comprises over 300 linear feet of records, audiovisual materials, publications and memorabilia from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Included in the collection is the original grave maker of Oscar Micheaux, the first African American filmmaker to produce a feature-length film, in 1919.

The donation and transfer of the collection to Indiana University proceeded with major support from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Indiana University Foundation and Indiana University Libraries.

Once the collection is processed by archivists, it will be made available for researchers at the Black Film Center/Archive, located in the Herman B Wells Library at IU Bloomington. Audiovisual materials in the collection will be processed for digitization through the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, a $15 million initiative announced by IU President Michael A. McRobbie in October 2013.

“The Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame collection is a treasure,” Graney said. “It illuminates the black presence in film history and adds to our historical understanding of the growth of black filmmaking — both Hollywood and independent — over the late 20th century.”

Martin added that the collection will enrich the campus’s growing film culture and provide teaching and research resources for The Media School, which will unite the faculties of the School of Journalism, the Department of Communication and Culture and the Department of Telecommunications on July 1.

“The potential of this collection is enormous, and it will contribute significantly to the film renaissance that’s been ongoing on the IU Bloomington campus,” he said. “It will have a palpable impact on the study of film — in particular black film — and on media in general.”

The Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame is recognized today for its groundbreaking research to document the historical contributions of black artists in film and television, and for its support of independent film and video artists expressing more positive and multi-dimensional black screen images. For 20 years, the organization hosted the annual Oscar Micheaux Awards and other programs including symposia and film festivals.

The donated collection from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame also includes the following unique items:

  • An oil painting of Madame Sul-Te-Wan, an actress in the early 20th century and the daughter of freed slaves.
  • Costumes, including items worn by the dancing team the Nicholas Brothers and American actress, poet and playwright Ruby Dee.
  • Original Hollywood musical scores and arrangements by musician Phil Moore, who became the first African American composer on staff at a major studio when he joined MGM Studios in 1942.