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Black Cinema-Going in New York of the Interwar Period

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Black Cinema-Going (Black Cinema-Going in New York of the Interwar Period)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2020-04-30

1. To locate Black or predominantly Black cinemas operating in Manhattan from 1919 to 1939
2. To identify the top-grossing films in venues aimed at Black patrons
3. To enhance the understanding of the ways in which Black women experienced cinema culture
4. To create a map of Black movie-going in the interwar period

This project demonstrated that Black cinemas created unique spaces for racial minorities in New York City. The operation of Black cinemas necessarily differed from their mainstream, white-only equivalents in the 1920s and 1930s. For instance, virtually all Black cinemas in Harlem were independent businesses operating outside of the studio system, which meant that most pictures screened there months, or even years after they premiered in downtown studio-owned theatres. Furthermore, Black theatres continued to include mixed bills – a combination of films and live performances – years after the practice fell out of fashion in white establishments. As such, Harlem’s theatres were aligned with the function of Black cinemas in the South, as they provided spaces that celebrated Black culture. This project revealed that Harlem’s Black moviegoers were not limited to the most renowned theatres, such as Lafayette, but could choose between many small or medium sized venues. Most of these movie houses received no scholarly attention to date.

The project has generated a website that includes a directory of Black cinemas in Harlem, available at Each location is linked to Google Maps. In addition to the work envisioned in the initial proposal, the website includes other useful information, such as a fully interactive bibliographical list for students and academics interested in the study of links between African Americans and film, available at Dr Frymus will continue to update the list even now, when the project has been completed.
Dr Agata Frymus has conducted research under the supervision of Professor Daniel Biltereyst within the Centre for Cinema and Media Studies, Department of Communication Sciences, Ghent University from 2018 to 2020.

During the fellowship, Dr Frymus has worked through six work packages outlined in the initial project proposal: 1. Socio-geographical analysis, 2. Box-office data analysis, 3. Reception research, 4. Analysis of secondary sources, 5. Creation of digital map, 6. Writing the monograph. She is currently re-writing the materials to be published as a monograph. In addition to this work, Dr Frymus has completed some projects that arose from her PhD thesis: for instance, her first monograph, Damsels and Divas: European Stardom in Silent Hollywood (Rutgers University Press, 2020) was published in April 2020, in month 24 of MC Individual Fellowship.

• Co-organised two international conferences, held at Ghent University (Belgium) and Leeds University (UK)
• Organised two conference panels (SCMS 2019 and SCMS 2020, to be postponed to 2021)
• Gave 11 conference presentations across Universities in Australia, United Kingdom, Europe and the US
• Gave two invited talks (University of Southampton, Leeds University)
• Gave three workshops/ public talks at Ghent University and Utrecht University (the Netherlands) in association with White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (UK)
• Gave one online event (a public talk via Zoom, in association with the University of the West of England, UK), which had to be postponed due to COVID-19. As such, it had to take place in May
2020, after the official end of the fellowship
• Gave two podcast interviews: one in Polish, and one in English
• Participated in one symposium (Watershed Media Centre, Bristol, UK)
• Participated in additional five conferences

• Created one digital map. Black Women & Cinemas in Harlem
• Created four interactive bibliographies on Black film culture; African American women; Harlem history and film audiences
• Written one non-peer reviewed article on historical Black cinemas in Harlem, to be published on Gotham: A Blog for Scholars of NYC History in September 2020

• Published two journal articles (Other Modernities; Historical Journal of Radio, Film and TV)
• Published one monograph: Damsels and Divas: European Stardom in Silent Hollywood (Rutgers University Press, 2020)
• Co-edited two journal special issues: Early Popular Visual Culture (with Rebecca Harrison) and Studies in European Cinema (with Laurence Carr and Luca Antoniazzi)
• Written two book chapters for edited volumes: Mario Slugan & Daniel Biltereyst, New Approaches to Early Cinema and Gabor Gergely, Companion to European Cinema. To be published in 2021
by Routledge and in 2022 by Indiana University Press consecutively
• Written three journal articles (Cinema Journal; Early Popular Visual Culture; Alphaville), all accepted for publication in 2021
• Written one book review, to be published in Historical Journal of Radio, Film and Television in 2021

• Written additional two journal articles, which are currently under consideration in Film History and Feminist Media Studies
• Co-written (with David Morton) one book chapter, currently under consideration for Comparing New Cinema Histories: Methodologies and Practices from a Global Perspective, ed. Daniela
Treveri Gennari, Lies Van de Vijver, Pierluigi Ercole
This project has been firmly embedded into the recent shift in new cinema history that emphasises broader considerations of cinema as primarily a physical site of recreation. The main innovations introduced by the project are broadly reliant on:

1. Revealing of a wide range of historically Black theatres operating in Harlem between 1909 and 1929, which are represented – but not limited to – New Douglas, Alhambra, Crescent, Gem, Roosevelt and Lincoln

2. Incorporation of gender in the study of a historical audience, and thus bridging the gap between the fields of film history, African American studies, Black girlhood and urban amusements

The project will also have an impact on other fields, namely history of New York City and the history of urban recreation.