Upcoming Detroit Institute of Arts Exhibition Highlights Black Film History

The exhibition is an opportunity to learn how Black people have shaped America’s cinema industry.
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International Sweethearts of Rhythm in "That Man of Mine," 1946. 35 mm films transferred to video. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. // Photograph courtesy of the DIA

This Black History Month, the Detroit Institute of Arts is highlighting the history and contribution of Black people in American film with a new exhibition starting Feb. 4.

Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971, created and organized by the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, will feature about 200 historical items to explore including photographs, costumes, props, and posters, along with newsreels and a selection of fully restored, rare films that showcase how African Americans have impacted the cinema industry in the face of systemic racism.

Visitors will have the opportunity to read through excerpts from films featuring prominent Black artists and actors, including Louis Armstrong, Dorothy Dandridge, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee, and admire contemporary artwork by artists like Theaster Gates, Glenn Ligon, Gary Simmons, and Kara Walker.

“We are honored to present Regeneration, a powerful, inspiring and important exhibition that examines the rich and often untold history of (Black people) in American cinema,” DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons said in a press release. “The exhibition explores the critical roles played by pioneering Black actors, filmmakers, and advocates to shape and influence U.S. cinema and culture in the face of enduring racism and discrimination.”

Along with the exhibition, the Detroit Film Theatre will present a series of films highlighting Black cinema history, including Within Our Gates, The Flying Ace, Harlem on the Prairie, and Eleven P.M. — a 1928 film shot in Detroit.

“Our community will learn how each generation of these pioneering actors and filmmakers paved the way for the following generation to succeed, and how they served as symbols and advocates for social justice in and beyond Hollywood,” Elliot Wilhelm, DIA Curator of Film said. “The museum’s beautiful Detroit Film Theatre will help share this history further with a wide-ranging film series that ties together the exhibition and Detroit’s own cinema history.”

The exhibition runs until June 23 and is free with museum admission. The Detroit Institute of Arts’ — located at 5200 Woodward Ave. — hours of operations are Tuesday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, visit dia.org, and be sure to check out hourdetroit.com for even more things to do in metro Detroit.