Behind the Scenes: African American Women Filmmakers in Early Cinema, 1890s to 1940s

Aimee Anthony

Advisor: Jessica Scarlata, PhD, Screen Cultures

Committee Members: Alison Landsberg, Keith Clark, Jane Gaines

Online Location,
April 22, 2021, 02:30 PM to 04:30 PM


This dissertation expands early film history to include African American women filmmakers. Until the last few decades, African American women have not been considered in the archives as pioneer filmmakers. As such, this dissertation engages with critical race theory and a critique of film historiographies to challenge the archives and early film scholarship on overlooking contributions of African American women to the earliest engagements with this highly influential medium. Over the course of research for this dissertation, both public and private archives were combed as well as an expansive review of past and present scholarship on early film of African Americans and women in the hopes of finding more and more African American women filmmakers. Through that process over thirty women have been found to have participated in the film industry both in the studios and independently. Because film as an industry involves pre-production, production and post-production—to include distribution and exhibition, the vertical integration mode of production was used as a method of organizing the over thirty African American women who are included in this dissertation as filmmakers in early cinema. This dissertation is meant to expand how we look at film histories as well as how we look at the contributions of African American women to one of the most powerful industries in the world.