Black Film Archive is a living register of Black films. In its current iteration, it showcases every* Black made film from 1915 to 1979 currently streaming.
For the past year, I’ve spent most of my time pondering one question: What does it mean to make Black film history accessible? Today, I’m proud to launch Black Film Archive, an evolving project that serves as my current response to this expansive question. In its first iteration, Black Film Archive lists every* Black film made between 1915 and 1979 currently streaming with every description written by yours truly. This free platform and open resource has been created with you all in mind. There are over 200 films for you to discover… right now!
Black Film Archive celebrates the rich, abundant history of Black cinema. We are an evolving archive dedicated to making historically and culturally significant films about Black people accessible through a streaming guide with cultural context.
The films collected on Black Film Archive have something significant to say about the Black experience; speak to Black audiences; and/or have a Black star, writer, producer, or director. This criterion for selection is as broad and inclusive as possible, allowing the site to cover the widest range of what a Black film can be.
The films listed here should be considered in conversation with each other, as visions of Black being on film across time. They express what only film can: social, anthropological, and aesthetic looks at the changing face of Black expression (or white attitudes about Black expression, which are inescapable given the whiteness of decision-makers in the film industry).
Films, by their very nature, require a connection between creator and audience. This relationship provides a common thread that is understood through conventional and lived knowledge to form thought and to consider. Not every filmmaker is speaking directly to Blackness or Black people or has the intention to. Some films listed carry a Black face to get their message across. But presented here, these films offer a full look into the Black experience, inferred or real, on-screen.
As debates about Black film’s association with trauma rage on, I hope Black Film Archive can offer a different lens through which to understand Black cinematic history, one that takes into consideration the full weight of the past. Through this lens, it is easy to see that the notion that “Black films are only traumatic” is based on generalizations and impressions of recent times (often pinned to the success of films like “12 Years a Slave”) rather than a deeper engagement with history, which reveals that “slave films” constitute only a small percentage of the Black films that have been made. I hope conversations evolve to consider the expansive archive of radical ideas and expression found in Black films’ past.
Notably, Black cinema’s value cannot be summed up by a listing of films.... It is more than an idea to be debated and dismissed… Black film bends all conventions and expectations, and resists categorization.
Listing films streaming for Black Film Archive is a starting point. To advance the conversations and questions about Black cinema that lie ahead, we must have informed and open exchanges to make way for new possibilities of what the genre can hold.
Black films—like the Black experience—demand to be seen, to be made accessible, to be mobilized, considered, and celebrated.
I hope Black Film Archive, in its first iteration, is a start to that consideration. The website will be updated monthly with the latest Black films from 1915 to 1979 streaming and continue evolving beyond its launchpad. I sincerely have big, never-ending plans for what this archive can become. To learn more about the site click here for FAQs.
My maternal grandmother instilled in me the belief that regardless of the depth of knowledge I obtain, I know very little until the moment I decide to teach what I know to another. Her thinking echoes something Toni Morrison once said: “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” Like Morrison, my grandmother believed worlds shift when we make expanding knowledge our collective responsibility. My promise to you is that we will now be together on a ride to deepen our knowledge of the abundant nature of Blackness on screen.
If you’re looking for a place to start on Black Film Archive, here are my curator picks.
At the moment of writing this, BFA is completely self-funded. If you would like to help sustain the Archive, you can donate money on PayPal, Cash App, or join the new paid tier of this monthly Substack that has a private Discord on Black film. Learn more here.
Thank you, all.
Loving the archive and your thoughts on each film. In addition to streaming options, it would be great to get updates here about new restorations of Black films, like Criterion's *The Learning Tree* and *Sweet Sweetback* this year. Most home video labels provide valuable information about the films that they release.