A new Florida museum is highlighting the contributions of Black actors to film history.
Jacksonville, Florida, used to be the winter film capital of the world, with many flocking to the southern city because of its huge contributions to the silent film industry, News 4 JAX reports. One of the spearheaders of those films was Richard E. Norman, a filmmaker, who in 1916, became one of the first to produce films starring Black actors.
While many of the film roles at that time for African Americans were stereotypical, Norman committed to showing Black actors from an uplifting viewpoint. He was one of the first to produce “race films” starring all Black casts in positive roles, a pioneering endeavor for the industry at the time.
“While Mr. Norman himself was white he saw the discrimination against African American actors and the market and films and art that centered on African Americans and their stories,” Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan told News 4 JAX.
Now a new museum honoring Norman Studios has opened in Jacksonville’s historic Arlington neighborhood. The museum pays homage to the silent film era and the Black actors who contributed to it.
“Pre-Hollywood we were not only the producer of world renown films and art, we also had a rich and robust community of African American art, and artists, it’s important to recognize that part of that history and celebrate the champions of quality and diversity in each era of Jacksonville history,” Mayor Deegan added.
The Norman Studios Silent Film Museum is the latest offering aimed at preserving Jacksonville history. Organizers formed a nonprofit in 2007 to protect the history of Norman’s work and the silent film industry at large, with the aim of celebrating Black actors and the role of Norman in supporting them. The museum is Norman’s old studio complex. It features personal items from the filmmaker, as well as never-before-seen items from his collections.
“Silent films, starting in 1895, moving into the 1920s, were one of the major impetus toward the American culture permeating the entire world. This is so significant that we have this legacy represented by this complete five-building studio complex,” said museum curator Barbara Wingo.
The new Norman Studios Silent Film Museum is completely free and open to the public.
Cover photo: New museum celebrating one of the first studios to produce Black films opens in Jacksonville/Norman Studios, 1916/Photo Courtesy of Florida Times-Union