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From notorious flapper Josephine Baker through to Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It and recent blockbusters like 12 Years a Slave, a new book recounts black cinema's journey through 100 years of poster art. Hundreds of images have been dug out from archives for Separate Cinema, which recounts the diverse and historic journey of the black film industry from the dawn of the twentieth century. Insightful in-depth text accompanies chapters on blackface, apartheid, the influence of jazz, Blaxploitaion of the 1970s (stereotyped roles), documentary film and much more, right through to the present day.

A definitive history of black poster art, the book touches upon the vibrancy of the first black film auteur Oscar Micheaux and other remarkable works by independent pioneers. The earliest film poster featured is for American silent movie The Birth of a Nation, from 1915. While it was a commercial success at the time, the film was highly controversial due to its portrayal of African American men, who were played by white actors in blackface.

Later, the tome revels in the 1920s to 30s jazz infused glory of controversial dancer Josephine Baker, while seminal films such as The Exile - which depicted an inter-racial couple - and Stormy Weather are profiled next to more contemporary classics like She's Gotta Have It. Recent Hollywood blockbusters like Monster's Ball and The Butler feature, too.

The wealth of imagery is taken from the most extensive private holdings of African American film memorabilia in the world - The Separate Cinema Archive. The archive contains more than 35,000 authentic film posters and photographs from more than 30 countries, maintained by its director John Kisch. Despite black cinema's Oscar success in recent years, Kisch believes there is still a paucity of representation. Separate Cinema is released on October 6 for RRP £45 to coincide with the archive's 40th anniversary. It represents some of the archive's greatest posters published together for the first time.

Iconic performers like Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy feature in the retrospective coffee table book. The fascinating visual history is accompanied by a foreword by renowned black history authority Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and afterword by Hollywood director Spike Lee. Part aesthetic, part nostalgic, the posters have deep meaning which crosses generations and transcends ethnicity. They represent a journey and remind people of the pioneers of the past, the courageous and daring African-American filmmakers, entertainers and artists whose dreams and struggles paved the way for future generations.

Academic and foreword contributor Henry Louis Gates, Jr says: 'From the dawn of the silent era to movies screening digitally around the world today, black film, like any medium, reflects the journey of African Americans in society. 'And the posters these films generate and inspire constitute their own art form and pattern of representation, like a parallel visual universe, mirroring (not literally but figuratively, as acts of interpretation) what an artist or a producer felt to be the dominant message about race in America that these films contained: ninety minutes, say, reduced to one image, an image that over time, became both an icon and a work of art of its own.'

Filmmaker Spike Lee comments: 'I'm proud to say many of the posters in the Separate Cinema Archive and in this great book are included in my own personal collection hanging on the walls of my 40 Acres and a Mule office... 'Movie posters are unique art themselves and I'm elated to see our black cinema reflected here.'

Daily Mail

29 Sep, 2014

Deni Kirkova