Still from Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day Project, 1913
The Museum of Modern Art

Recently discovered reels from a 1913 film have become the oldest-known footage of a movie featuring a black cast, reports the New York Times.

Found in the film archives at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the untitled silent film depicts middle-class black life in the early-Jim Crow era. The footage found is raw material for what would have been a romantic comedy.

The film is full of firsts in terms of blacks and film. Besides being the earliest-known footage of a film with a black cast, the movie stars vaudeville actor Bert Williams, who was one of the biggest black stars on Broadway at the time. This material is also the only full-length feature of Williams’ work available. Further, an extravagant cakewalk depicted in the film is also the earliest record of the longest “black-vernacular dance” being shown on-screen.

The material includes behind-the-scenes footage, which illustrates that the production of the film was interracial, also very unusual for its time.

On Oct. 24 the Museum of Modern Art will open an exhibition of the work, called “100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History.”


Read more at the New York Times.