By James L Conyers
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In this sense, the business and entertainment definitions of entrepreneur bring uplift into alignment with itinerant exhibitors like Lyman Howe. Black film entrepreneurs worked with relative autonomy, unhindered by regulation or patent restrictions. 65 The term entrepreneurial also allows for an understanding of filmmaking that includes narrative and nonnarrative, fiction and nonfiction, theatrical and nontheatrical modes of film production. Although the southern institutes that engaged with motion picture technology did so for a variety of reasons, entertainment was not the primary objective; for independent Black film entrepreneurs, in contrast, the goal was to cultivate and sustain a paying audience through entertaining motion pictures and actualities pertaining to African American life.
One such film, Making Negro Lives Count (Hampton Institute, 1915), clearly plays on this dual meaning in its title and in a narrative structure that showcases Hampton’s ability to transform individuals and, as a result, communities. Making Negro Lives Count chronicles the conditions in poor rural communities, the training provided by Hampton to meet the challenges of those conditions, and the results of improvements made in the communities by Hampton graduates. More broadly, the institutes’ films were part of the rhetorical arsenal of their multimedia publicity campaigns.
This expansion of the period matters not just because it makes the historiography more accurate but also because it broadens our understanding of the motivation of race film practitioners. Accounts of race film have posited it primarily as a response to representational racism and as the manifestation of a desire to capitalize on a perceived untapped market, African American spectators. The notion of a separate cinema necessitated by a segregated culture is a logical inference. Yet it is only part of the story.
Black American intellectualism and culture : a social study of African American social and political thought by James L Conyers