A Brief History of African-American Documentary Films

For American film-making the year 1939 stands out. Included in the vast roster of films made that year is the documentary on African American singer Marion Anderson. The Daughters of the American Revolution would not allow Ms.Anderson to perform a concert in Constitution Hall. However, on April 9, 1939 civil rights organizers arranged a special concert at the Lincoln Memorial. This event was filmed and used in a documentary film. The story of making that documentary is being retold in an upcoming television event, “Marian Anderson: A Song of Dignity and Grace” based on a recent biography.Didn’t catch that? This explains it.

In 1996 “When We Where Kings” was released. This film covers the 1974 boxing bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire. Since the mid-1990′s a new onslaught of African American documentaries has been produced including, “Hoop Dreams”, “4 Little Girls” and “Unchained Memories”.

While many African American documentaries are focused on an individual event or person, documentaries for television have provided a base for larger work such as Public Broadcasting’s 1987 “Eyes on the Prize”. A fourteen part series covering the African American civil rights movement from 1954 to 1985. The series documents first hand accounts of people, places and events.

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