Vol. 3 Fall 2019

Documentary, Blackness

and the National

Museum of African American

History and Culture

Edited by Jason Fox and Mia Mask

Anchored by an exploration of the role of photography and film in the staging of visitor interaction within the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., this volume aims to enrich and expand scholarship on historical traditions of non-fiction media practices by black artists and filmmakers.  Looking beyond visibility politics, we seek to trace historical negotiations by black media makers. What terms of, and access to, the means of representation situate black visualities within and against larger historical structures of power?

Foundational research by Pearl Bowser, Bill Greaves, Deborah Willis and others speaks to a broad tradition of documentary practices by black filmmakers stretching back to cinema’s earliest origins.  This scholarship has also addressed the limitations created by lost material and poor preservation practices.  For Bowser, knowledge of early black documentary practice must necessarily look outside lost works themselves to secondary sources such as newspapers articles, advertisements, newsletters and press kits.  Elsewhere, scholars such as Deborah Willis and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe document black non-fiction media production outside of moving images, turning to a long history of professional and amateur photography practices.  And there are also the hybrid methods employed by filmmakers like Marlon Riggs, Isaac Julien, Tracey Moffatt, and Raoul Peck who blend fiction with nonfiction footage to create persuasive arguments about the real world.

Inspired by the rich legacy of black documentary practices, we invite contributors to investigate the history of documentary practice from both the center and the margins. We wish to argue for the centrality of black documentary filmmaking practices that have often been excluded from canonical approaches.  We seek to trace the social and historical grounds that have sustained and starved such practices at local and national, personal and institutional levels.  With an emphasis on the 1950’s to the present, we also intend to highlight traditions of photographic journalism, avant-garde film, experimental video, and drawing, to trace the complex intersections of political, social, and aesthetic priorities of Afro-diasporic nonfiction media makers.

Finally, we invite contributions that engage the role of film and video in the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture as well as contributions that approach the museum as a documentary form. Special attention will be given to multimedia installations and the ways their material, political, and social dimensions enter into complex dialog with what can be said in the museum, and the forms of interaction and response they engender.

We solicit abstracts that explore these themes through approaches that include, but are not limited to:

  • Intersections of the vectors of form, race, and social and political conditions in black documentary practice.
  • Explorations of films and filmmakers that move between or elide conventional boundaries between fiction and documentary filmmaking practices and between film and contemporary art practices.
  • The social uptake of particular films and traditions, 1950’s to present.
  • Political economies of production and exhibition.
  • Studies of particular films in relation to objective social conditions.
  • Practices of formal abstraction in nonfiction film, photography, drawing and painting, 1950’s to present.
  • Documentary as a practice that amends or upholds dominant discourses of representation.
  • Mapping race onto documentary moments and movements.
  • Archival activism and the Great Migration Project at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
  • The role of film, video, and photography-based installations in visitor interaction with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.


Deadline for electronic submissions of 500 word abstract, brief bio, and sample bibliography is April 15th, 2018.

Please send inquiries and submissions via the form below or email Jason Fox, Editor, World Records: jasonthomasfox [at] gmail.com

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