Detroit Institute of Arts celebrates Black cinema

‘Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971’ at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) brings lost or forgotten films, filmmakers and performers to a contemporary audience

Still from ‘Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971’ exhibition in Detroit, showing orchestra in the film ‘That Man of Mine’, 1946
International Sweethearts of Rhythm in ‘That Man of Mine’, 1946
(Image credit: Detroit Institute of Arts)

Inspired and named after a 1923 all-Black-cast movie, ‘Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971’, which is currently on show at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), explores the overlooked legacy of Black artists in American film from the dawn of cinema through to the civil rights movement. Originally organised by the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the exhibition aims to bring lost or forgotten films, filmmakers and performers to a contemporary audience, while at the same time, highlighting how trailblazing African American artists persisted, despite barriers of discrimination and prejudice, in order to showcase their talent, tenacity and commitment to creative expression.

‘Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971’ at the DIA

Black cinema poster

In the Heat of the Night theatrical release poster, 1967

(Image credit: Detroit Institute of Arts)

The show features nearly 200 historical items – among them photographs, newsreels, home movies, costumes, props and posters – as well as specially designed interactive elements, all juxtaposed with significant artworks by contemporary artists such as Theaster Gates, Glenn Ligon, Gary Simmons and Kara Walker. Historical highlights include home movie excerpts of legendary artists such as Josephine Baker and the Nicholas brothers, as well as film excerpts featuring the likes of Louis Armstrong, Dorothy Dandridge, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier, Paul Robeson and Cicely Tyson.

Artwork with the the word 'COLORED' in lights

Gary Simmons, Balcony Seating Only, 2017

(Image credit: Detroit Institute of Arts)

‘This critically important presentation chronicles much of what we know on-screen, but shares so much more of what happened off-screen,’ says the DIA’s film curator Elliot Wilhelm. ‘We 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.’

Throughout the run of the show, the museum’s Detroit Film Theatre, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, will host a specially curated film series that ties together the exhibition and Detroit’s own cinema history. The series will include films that date back to the early years of cinema, such as Within Our Gates (1920), Body and Soul (1925), The Flying Ace (1926), and Princess Tam Tam (1932), as well as films with Detroit connections including Eleven PM (filmed in Detroit in 1928).

‘Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971’ is on show at the Detroit Institute of Arts until 23 June 2024,

Black cinema

The Nicholas Brothers in a scene from Stormy Weather (1943)

(Image credit: Detroit Institute of Arts)

Anne Soward joined the Wallpaper* team as Production Editor back in 2005, fresh from a three-year stint working in Sydney at Vogue Entertaining & Travel. She prepares all content for print to ensure every story adheres to Wallpaper’s superlative editorial standards. When not dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, she dreams about real estate.