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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Texas cinema included in black history

By Weston Campo/reporter

A History of Black Cinema and the Texas Race Films kicked off the first of two presentations on black cinema Feb. 17, co-presented by Jerry Zumwalt, RTVB coordinator; his wife Theresa Zumwalt, a film instructor; and Adrian and Michelle Neely, an instructor in the RTVB program and a documentarian, respectively.

Most of the films shown were directed by Spencer Williams, also known as Andy from the 1950s TV show Amos ’n’ Andy. Michelle Neely, who filmed a documentary on Williams, said he portrayed black life well: “a perfect collision of religion and life.”

The presenters provided attendees with a lunch of ham, black-eyed peas and cornbread.

“It represents the kind of meals the people that these films portray would have had — not the variety we’re used to today,” Jerry Zumwalt said.

Theresa Zumwalt said the films would be circulated to black-only theaters, sometimes in the churches that people attended.

The films would be sent from one theater to the next. If a strip was damaged, people would simply cut out parts and glue it back together, Adrian Neely said.

“These films were made to be seen only once,” Theresa Zumwalt said.

A prolific filmmaker, Williams worked a lot in Texas. He would stay for about two weeks and almost never shoot more than one or two takes, Michelle Neely said.

“He would go to a town and pick people from the community to act,” she said.

No record of any of these race films existed until they were found in a warehouse in Tyler, Texas, in 1983.

Southern Methodist University restored the films through an arduous process because of the nitrate film used at the time.

“The discovery changed film history forever,” Jerry Zumwalt said.

World War II saw the end of the race films, but the panel agreed they cut a path for black cinema for years to come.

The race films are available in the NE library.

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