The same week the Oscars once again faced questions about diversity and inclusion in its nominees, George Lucas’ forthcoming Los Angeles art museum announced that it had acquired more than 37,000 items documenting African American cinema history — a move that new museum Director and Chief Executive Sandra Jackson-Dumont said would shine a light on “the representation of people of color on the big screen.”
In an interview Thursday with The Times, Jackson-Dumont said the Separate Cinema Archive will allow future visitors to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, under construction in L.A.'s Exposition Park, to explore “a comprehensive and sweeping view of the history of black cinematic production.”
The archive contains items reflecting film history from 1904 to 2019. Archive founder John Duke Kisch collected original posters, lobby cards, stills, publicity material, scripts and other ephemera for more than 40 years.
Highlights in the collection include more than 70 posters, lobby cards and stills of the work of Oscar Micheaux, the first African American feature filmmaker; 20 original posters of entertainer Josephine Baker; and set images from photographer Gordon Parks, the first black person to direct a major studio film. Dorothy Dandridge, Sidney Poitier and Diana Ross are also represented in the collection.
The name Separate Cinema Archive refers to the proliferation of films produced outside mainstream cinema from the 1910s to the late 1940s featuring all-black casts.
With more than 2,800 original foreign posters and lobby cards representing 38 countries in the Separate Cinema Archive, Jackson-Dumont said she was particularly interested in “how people of color are actually represented, even through these films across the world — what people chose to put on these mass produced images.”
Jackson-Dumont said scholars will be able to study the archive. The museum also will host events and partner with organizations to create programming.
“This particular body of work will help us cement certain relationships that will further animate the work that we want to do, not only at our building but also in communities,” she said.
In February, the Lucas Museum is partnering with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to host screenings of “The Wiz” (1978) and Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” (1989). The event includes a conversation between Lucas Museum film curator Ryan Linkof and Turner Classic Movies’ first African American host, Jacqueline Stewart.
The Separate Cinema Archive joins a Lucas Museum collection that includes paintings, sculpture and photography as well as movies and comic art. The $1-billion art museum came to Los Angeles after false starts in San Francisco and Chicago, eventually breaking ground in March 2018 next to the Coliseum and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in Exposition Park. The target completion date is late 2021.