The Black Cinema Is… Jacqueline Stewart Introduces “Cry of Jazz”


December’s installment of “The Black Cinema Is…” features Northwestern University professor Jacqueline Stewart’s introduction and discussion of Ed Bland’s groundbreaking 1959 semi-documentary Cry of Jazz. Made in Chicago, the film intercuts documentary scenes of inner-city life, a performance by Sun Ra and his Arkestra, and fictional scenes of an argument at an interracial party in Hyde Park. Few knew what to make of it at the time, according to Bland:
“It was considered the work of madmen. Black racists. At best it was considered a personal statement. Bad music, bad thinking, bad acting, bad writing and bad photography. Unfair to jazz, because we made jazz a political act. Kenneth Tynan, drama critc of the London Observer, called it historic, in that it was the first challenge to whites by blacks done in film. Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Nat Hentoff hated it.”

More than fifty years later, it’s just as powerful.

About the speaker:
Jacqueline Stewart’s research and teaching focus on African American film, literature, and culture; moving image archiving and preservation; and Chicago media history. She is the author of Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity (University of California Press, 2005) and her essays have appeared in journals including Critical Inquiry, Film Quarterly, Film History, and The Moving Image. Stewart directs the South Side Home Movie Project and is a co-curator of the L.A. Rebellion Preservation Project at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. She is currently researching the history of Black moving image preservation and completing a study of the life and work of African American actor/writer/director Spencer Williams. Her other research interests include the history and theory of film exhibition and spectatorship and “orphan” media (non-commercial and other marginalized film and video works in need of preservation, from home movies to cable access television programs).

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