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George Lucas’ Museum Acquires Most Extensive African American Film History Collection

The Separate Cinema Archive is the world's most prominent repository of artifacts related to African American film history.

Spike Lee, Do The Right Thing - 1989

Spike Lee in “Do The Right Thing” – 1989


The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, currently under construction in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park, has announced its acquisition of the Separate Cinema Archive, the most prominent African American film history repository, which encompasses more than 37,000 rare items, dated from 1904 to 2019.

These include a major selection of original film posters, film stills, publicity material, scripts, lobby cards, an extensive reference library, and more.

Founded by John Duke Kisch in 1972, the impressive collection features work by nearly every major African American film personality, from the early days of cinema to the present. It’s an indispensable resource for the study and contextualization of African American artistic and cultural history.

The name “Separate Cinema” refers to the “race films” that proliferated the first half of the 20th century, featuring all-black casts. Produced outside of the mainstream, they were in effect an analogous industry of black films, that had its own stars and traditions, which screened in segregated theaters across the country.

The archive is therefore an important addition to the museum’s growing collection, which will allow it to present a more inclusive history about the production and distribution of feature films.

Prior to the Lucas Museum’s acquisition, the archive had been featured in traveling exhibits, at film festivals, and art institutions, as well as in a 2014 book published by Kisch.

“Comprising original film posters, photography, and other archival materials — including for ‘The Wiz’ and ‘Do the Right Thing’ — the Separate Cinema Archive will not only provide film scholars with incredible opportunities for research, this treasure trove will also catalyze important conversations about the inspiring narratives of African American perspectives represented through film,” said Sandra Jackson-Dumont, director and CEO of the Lucas Museum.

Additionally, to celebrate this acquisition, the museum has partnered with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on a film program that will run during Black History Month, on February 8, 2020.

The event, which will take place at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza’s Cinemark Theater, will feature a family-friendly matinee screening of “The Wiz” (1978), and an evening screening of “Do the Right Thing” (1989). They will be immediately followed by a conversation with author, scholar, and Turner Classic Movies host Jacqueline Stewart, with Ryan Linkof, curator of film at the Lucas Museum, about how filmmakers engage with issues of race within the narrative of the “American dream,” throughout cinema history.

“It is exciting to celebrate Black History Month by introducing the important Separate Cinema Archive and by screening these two iconic films even before our museum opens,” said Jackson-Dumont.

Founded by George Lucas and his wife, Mellody Hobson, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will present a permanent collection and rotating exhibitions for diverse audiences, and will feature all forms of visual storytelling, including filmmaking.

Designed by renowned architect Ma Yansong of MAD Architects, the museum will feature new public green space, state-of-the-art theaters, and numerous spaces for events, education, restaurants, and retail.

Completion is expected by early 2021.

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