The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has added a new temporary exhibit entitled, Now Showing: African American Movie Posters. The exhibit is a collection of posters that were recovered from Larry Richards collection that will run from November 22, 2019 until November 2020. The exhibit consists of four sections – Film Pioneers, the Problem of the Color Lines, A Star is Born, and Black Power and “Blaxploitation.”
When asked about the origin of the event, the exhibit’s curator and curator for the Center for African American Media Arts (CAAMA) gallery, Rhea Combs, explained, “This exhibition introduces visitors to films featuring African Americans they may be less familiar with and, at the same time, it recognizes some of the most historically and culturally relevant films made over a 70-year period. The significant artistry and design work that goes into creating not only the films but the posters that promote the films are not to be underestimated.”
Who is Larry Richards?
Many of the posters on display come from the Larry Richards Collection that the museum acquired in 2013. There are thousands that exist in the collection of Larry Richards, but the museum only acquired 700 objects.
Who is Larry Richards? He was a librarian at the Philadelphia Free Library who’s collection of movie items was sparked by one of his first film posters collected, The Bull Dogger, which can be seen at the entrance of the museum, that he acquired from a film festival that occurred during Black History Month. His original collections are about 2,000 items that include posters, lobby cards, photos, and more.
Larry Richards also published a book titled African American Films Through 1959. The book includes pictures, credits, and details of Black films that were directed by Black directors or featured a predominately Black cast. Some of the very pieces of movie art can be seen in person at the museum during this exhibit.
This is the first time that the museum will feature this technology. It allows visitors to receive more details about the movie posters that include film snippets, interviews with museum curator, Rhea combs, set photos and more information about the film. To access this information, all visitors have to do is go online to the site http://hi.si.edu/, follow the directions, scan one of the select movie posters, and enjoy the pop-ups.
I personally enjoyed the new feature as it allowed me to learn a lot about the films without having to wait around a huge crowd to see or hear about the films and it allowed to me easily replay videos within pop-ups! It is a new interactive way that will fully engage all visitors.
“Film can serve as a peek into ideals about culture and society.” – Rhea L. Combs, curator and head of CAAMA
Short Film Feature
Towards the back of the exhibit, there is a small viewing room, with red curtains drawn at its entry, that has a 9-minute video consisting of clips of 10 important Black directed films that span history from 1937-1974. The films include; The Exile, Dark Manhattan, Go Down, Death!, The Bronze Buckaroo, Cabin in the Sky, Carmen Jones, No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger, Right On!, and Claudine. I was excited to hear some of the amazing dialogue written by screenwriting couple Lester and Tine Pine in the film Claudine, that I will definitely watch again.
The new Now Showing Movie Poster exhibit is worth checking out before it leaves the museum. I had fun looking at how Black culture in cinema has grown and survived over the years, even when the entertainment industry lacked diversity. It is here where you can see some of the foundations of Black film making that have given us the likes of Kasi Lemmons, Ava Duverney, Spike Lee, and Ryan Coogler.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture
Location: 1400 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20560
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