Marking the 30th anniversary of the National Film Registry, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced Friday the selection of 25 films to be inducted for preservation in 2018.
Films which are deemed influential and of cultural, historic and aesthetic merit are added to the registry in recognition of their importance to the nation’s cinematic heritage.
Among the films about African Americans are the earliest known footage of intimacy between African Americans in the 29-second silent film “Something Good-Negro Kiss,” shot in 1898. Vaudeville actors Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown are featured in this short film, which was discovered as a 19th-century nitrite print from the University of Southern California’s Hugh Hefner Moving Image Archive.
”What makes this film so remarkable is the non-caricatured representation and naturalistic performance of the couple,” said Allyson Nadia Field of the University of Chicago, who discovered the film along with USC archivist Dino Everett.
”As they playfully and repeatedly kiss, in a seemingly improvised performance, Suttle and Brown constitute a significant counter to the racist portrayal of African Americans otherwise seen in the cinema of its time,” Field said. “This film stands as a moving and powerful image of genuine affection, and is a landmark of early film history.”
”Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People,” from 1984, is a short, animated film by director Ayoka Chenzira, who is generally considered the first Black woman animator. The film tells the story of an age-old battle between a Black woman and her hair. It addressed everything from the challenge of keeping a wig on straight to the way Vaseline was sometimes used by African-American women in their grooming.
Kasi Lemmons’ 1997 blockbuster “Eve’s Bayou,” which had an all-star cast including Samuel L. Jackson, who co-produced the film, Lynn Whitfield, Meagan Good, Debbi Morgan and Diahann Carroll, was also recognized. A youthful Jurnee Smollett appears in her first starring role as protagonist Eve Batiste.
”It’s such an honor to return from production on my fifth film, ‘Harriet’ to find that my first, ‘Eve’s Bayou,’ is being included in the National Film Registry,” Lemmons said. “As a Black woman filmmaker, it is particularly meaningful to me, and to future generations of filmmakers, that the Library of Congress values diversity of culture, perspective and expression in American cinema and recognizes ‘Eve’s Bayou’ as worthy of preservation. I’m thrilled that ‘Eve’s Bayou’ is being included in the class of 2018.”
Chenzira, an important figure in filmmaking among African Americans during the 1980s, was also surprised by the addition of her film.
“For my independently-produced, animated experimental film to be included in the National Film Registry is quite an honor,” Chenzira said. “I never imagined that ‘Hair Piece’ would be considered to have cultural significance outside of its original intent, which was a conversation and a love-letter to Black women — and some men — about identity, beauty and self-acceptance in the face of tremendous odds.”
Chris Eyre’s 1998 film “Smoke Signals,” generally considered to be the first feature film written, directed and produced by Native Americans, was also among this year’s selections. The groundbreaking film won many prestigious honors including two Sundance Film Festival awards.
Other films nominated this year include “The Shining,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “My Fair Lady,” “Broadcast News” and “The Days of Wine and Roses.” A full list can be found on the library’s website, www.loc.gov.
The National Film Registry inducts 25 motion pictures annually, and films must be at least 10 years old to qualify. The Librarian of Congress make the selections after conferring with members of the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) and film specialists at the Library of Congress.
Under the terms, more than 6,300 titles were nominated by the public. Nominations for 2019 will be accepted through the fall at www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/nominate.