Past Event

Sites of Cinema: Heels on Concrete

October 26, 2023
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
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Faculty House, Columbia University
64 Morningside Dr
New York, NY 10027

Heels on Concrete: New York's Black Women Film Critics and the Sublation of Classical Hollywood Cinema


Guest Speaker: Ellen Scott
Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, UCLA
Author, Cinema Civil Rights: Regulation, Repression, and Race in the Classical Hollywood Era (Rutgers University Press, 2015)

Respondent: Racquel Gates
Associate Professor of Film, Columbia University

Before there were Black women film directors like Julie Dash, Cheryl Dunye, and Ava Duvernay there were generations dating back to the 1910s of Black women who, lacking access to the director’s chair, expressed their creative and evocative ideas about the screen through critical writing.  A large number of these critics were journalists in Los Angeles and New York writing for Black weekly newspapers.  This paper will explore the work of three New York-based journalists whose approach to film criticism was richly informed by their night time adventures in the city that never sleeps: Corienne Robinson-Morrow, late 1920s early 1930s entertainment columnist, publicity manager for Balaban and Katz, and editor at the Interstate Tattler, Lillian Scott New York Chicago Defender bureau director, film reviewer and columnist from 1945-1960, and Delores Calvin, musical press agent, columnist and reviewer for the widely syndicated Calvin news service that bore her family name.  These women’s work gives a unique perspective on Hollywood cinema, from a slant or vantage where the lights of Broadway outshone Los Angeles’ studio lights and where both Harlem and the history of urban Leftist activism served as powerful roots for the critical and creative tradition that would emerge.  Further, these critics’ work reveals a uniquely Black femme approach to film criticism as activism and as a mode for claiming the cinematic project as one’s own--for finding and creating, through critique and call, a vision of cinema that could support Black women’s progressive futures. Their criticism's urbane, distinctly New York lens offered an altered, sometimes dissonant or surreal, vision of the Hollywood screen, presenting a defining set of meanings, pleasures, and critiques to the Hollywood oeuvre of the late 1920s, 30s and 40s that we now consider Classic. They supplanted Hollywood's narrative and aesthetic framework with artistic writing that riffed surreally on Hollywood.