African-American artists are on screen this week and next at the Paramount Theatre’s Silent Movie Mondays series.
The upcoming films are by Oscar Micheaux, and early African-American director. Tonight it’s “Body and Soul,” the 1925 film that was the first role for Paul Robeson, who would go on to widespread fame.
“All of them have a special cultural and historical weight,” said Zola Mumford, curator of the Seattle Black Film Festival. “A lot of it is tied to the idea of post-slavery racial uplift, and black accomplishment and achievement.”
The African-American silent film series is produced in partnership with Seattle Theatre Group and LANGSTON, a nonprofit arts organization housed in the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle.
While the films highlight history, and tell stories about life in this country, Mumford also says they’re immersive and entertaining.
“Some of them do have elements of melodrama, but that can be fun,” she said. “Every generation has its own melodrama and the stories do follow an arc that you will recognize.”
And each film is accompanied by live music on the Paramount’s “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ. The scores are created and performed by Tedde Gibson.
On Oct. 21, Silent Movie Mondays will feature “Within Our Gates,” also directed by Oscar Micheaux. It’s the earliest surviving feature film from an African-American director. The movie was shot in 1919.
That was the year of Red Summer, when black business districts were violently destroyed across the country. Black veterans returning from World War I were lynched.
“Yet Oscar Micheaux continues to make films to have a strong and clear message about the need for equality and fairness,” Mumford said. “History and the teaching of history are incredibly important, especially now. … It’s not something that happens in snippets or bullet points. That’s why it’s good to go see a film, but then go talk about it with someone.”
And that’s the goal of Silent Movie Mondays. A discussion follows the 7 p.m. screening each week.