I know a little about African American cinema but I never had a clue about the amount of films that had been produced since the early days of cinema until I opened the pages of John Kisch and Edward Mapp’s book A Separate Cinema: Fifty Years of Black Cast Posters. Being a poster book its aim is to showcase posters and artwork from long forgotten films (both shorts and features) from the ‘20s to present day (although mostly focusing on the early days of cinema) and well as present a glimpse into the evolution of African American cinema.
The book is not only a document of history but also a look into the evolution of popular film with audiences. The posters are broken up into sections based on these popular genres such as “Harlem Goes West,” “Comic, Coon, or Buffoon,” “Bronze Femmes Fatales,” “African Atrocity,” and “Pint-Sized Jesters,’ to name but a few. The book also offers alternative posters from the more popular films as well as alternate posters from other countries. It’s a treasure trove of artwork from different styles and different eras.
To add to the enjoyment of the book is a preface from Spike Lee – a hug advocate for African American cinema and its preservation. Also Donald Bogle provides the introduction to the book which is a history lesson and background for African American cinema and its effect on a culture and the film industry as a whole. Bogle’s introduction puts the whole book in perspective and adds to the enjoyment of the book.
With over a 150 pages of posters and artwork collecting all of this in one place was a massive undertaking and add to that that many of the early films have been lost and you have one of the best books of this kind. This is not just a book for lovers of African American films and studies but for film historians and artist alike (as the posters represent some of the most interesting early African American artwork).