Burbank Library Presents Author Event For “Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World”

Image Courtesy Burbank Public Library

The Burbank Public Library presents an online author event for the recently published book Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World, featuring a discussion between writer Wil Haygood and movie producer Pamela Williams. The conversation on Black filmmakers and film history will be held on Wednesday evening, December 1.

Haygood looks at 100 years of Black movies, discussing the challenges and successes of Black actors and filmmakers, from Gone with the Wind to Black Panther and discusses how those films show the history of civil rights, racism and Black culture in America.

He begins Colorization with an examination of D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and became Hollywood’s first blockbuster in 1915. The silent film focused on the “noble intent of the Ku Klux Klan” and “portrayed Black people as criminals, sex fiends and goggle-eyed fools, in skulking league with Northern carpetbaggers,” as Dwight Garner so aptly put it in his review of Colorization in The New York Times.

The Birth of a Nation was screened at the White House for President Woodrow Wilson, who contributed written text for the film and is recognized now as a particularly egregious racist for even that period of time in American history.

Hattie McDaniel was the first black person to win an Oscar. She won Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Gone With the Wind” (1939). At the Oscar ceremony, McDaniel was not allowed to sit up front with the rest of the cast, but had to take segregated seating at the back of the room. For a long time, the only role for Blacks in movies remained service roles, such as maids and mammies. (Photo Courtesy Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images).

Haygood is the acclaimed author of Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America and biographies on Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson and Sammy Davis Jr., in addition to several other books.

He also wrote The Butler: A Witness to History, a biography of White House butler Eugene Allen. Haygood’s initial article on Allen, “A Butler Well Served by This Election,” which ran on November 7, 2008, in the Washington Post, was the source material for the movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which was produced by Williams and nominated for multiple awards.

“It’s going to be such a pleasure to be joined in this Burbank Public Library event with the prolific producer Pam Williams,” commented Haygood. “We first met in the lead up to the filming of The Butler, a movie inspired by a story I wrote. Since then Pam has taught me a great deal about the mechanics – and required patience – of filmmaking.”

Williams also produced The United States vs. Billie Holiday, for which Andra Day was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama.

“Looking forward to a conversation with Wil about his fascinating and fabulous book – Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World,” said Williams. “Having worked as a film and television producer to bring several of Wil’s wonderful books to the big and little screens, I’m excited to unpack his riveting material and to talk about the film and TV landscape of today.”

“Black Panther,” featuring Chadwick Boseman in the titular role, is the most successful Black film of all time. It proved that a film with a majority Black cast could successfully take on a major mainstream genre and have wide crossover appeal and commercial success. It is a landmark in Black cinematic history. (Photo Courtesy Marvel Studios)

“Certainly, the major achievement of Colorization is the way the author integrates the history of Black filmmaking into the context and currents of racial history in America. He tells this story by looking at the lives and careers of so many individuals of talent and artistic aspiration who found themselves largely excluded from film,” commented Librarian Hubert Kozak, who organized the event.

“As film grew to become a major and shared cultural medium, it negatively distorted, or failed to reflect at all, the life experiences of major segment of our society. It just leaves you wondering what the nature of race relationships would be in America today if this powerful medium had been more inclusive, and it makes you realize how important it is to all of us that it be so.”

Colorization is a story of exclusion, but it is also a very moving and inspiring story about the fight for inclusion, as Black filmmakers and artists fought the Hollywood establishment, worked independently to showcase talent and to tell their own stories, proved that there was a market for more inclusive films and demanded change in the film industry,” he added.

Those interested in attending must pre-register for the event via the Library’s webpage. The conversation begins at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 1, and will be held online.