With One Major Acquisition, George Lucas’s New Museum Just Became a Key Destination for African American Film History

The forthcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, founded by filmmaker George Lucas his wife, Mellody Hobson, has has acquired the Separate Cinema Archive, a collection of 37,000 objects documenting African American cinema history from 1904 to the present day.

Separate Cinema’s holdings of film posters, photography, and other archival materials feature the work of Oscar Micheaux, Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, Dorothy Dandridge, Sidney Poitier, and others. The trove is a natural fit for Lucas’s Los Angeles museum, which eschews traditional definitions of fine art to embrace all popular storytelling visual forms, from painting and sculptures to comic books and illustration—and, of course, film.

The backbone of the museum’s 100,000-work collection includes 20th-century American art—one high-profile acquisition was Shuffleton’s Barbershop (1959) by Norman Rockwell—and original artifacts from Lucas’s beloved Star Wars franchise, as well as other Hollywood memorabilia.

“The Separate Cinema Archive will not only provide film scholars with incredible opportunities for research, this treasure trove will also catalyze important conversations about the inspiring narratives of African American perspectives represented through film,” said Lucas Museum director and CEO Sandra Jackson-Dumont in a statement.

The museum hired Jackson-Dumont in October to succeed Don Bacigalupi, the institution’s founding president, who resigned last February. The long-awaited institution decided—after much deliberation and an aborted plan to build in Chicago—to call Los Angeles home in early 2017. Construction began the following year and the majority of the work is set to be completed by late 2021.

Although an opening date for the museum has not yet been set, it is celebrating the Separate Cinema Archive acquisition with a day of public programming. On February 8, it will host screenings of The Wiz (1978) and Do the Right Thing (1989)—two of the films represented in the archive—at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza’s Cinemark Theater.

“It is exciting to celebrate Black History Month by introducing the important Separate Cinema Archive and by screening these two iconic films even before our museum opens,” said Jackson-Dumont.

The screening of The Wiz will take place during Melanin Market LA, a regular pop-up event held outside the theater featuring black-owned businesses. Following a showing of Do the Right Thing, Lucas Museum film curator Ryan Linkof will speak with author and archivist Jacqueline Stewart, a professor of cinema and media studies at the University of Chicago, about how movies have portrayed race throughout cinematic history.

See more film posters from the Separate Cinema Archive below.

The film screenings will be held at the Cinemark Theater at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, 4020 Marlton Avenue, Los Angeles, California on February 8, 2020. 

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