Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Black History Month: The Lincoln Motion Picture Company
Over the last month or so, diversity within the film industry has been the hot topic. If we journey back 100 years, it was practically non-existent. For the most part, black performers were relegated to bit parts that embodied grotesque stereotypes. Most parts that called for black actors, or actors of any nationality for that matter, were played by white actors in heavy makeup. Amidst these conditions, The Lincoln Motion Picture Company was created.
Founded in 1916, The Lincoln Motion Picture Company was the first movie company owned and operated by blacks. The two men responsible for its creation are actor Noble Johnson and his brother George who named the company for President Abraham Lincoln. It became known for showcasing black talent on every level of the filmmaking process. The company fulfilled the demand for films aimed at African-Americans, particularly in the south. In fact, there films were limited to playing almost exclusively for black audiences. Showings were often held at churches, schools, and the occasional "Colored Only" theater. Their first production was a film called The Realization of a Negro's Ambition. The plot involves a black engineer who is given the chance to succeed in the oil industry after he saves the life of a white woman. Unfortunately, the film is now lost.
By 1920 (or thereabouts) Noble Johnson left the company to become a contract actor. He would enjoy a lengthy career and appear in such films as The Thief of Bagdad, The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu, The Mummy, King Kong, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Lincoln would continue under the guidance of George Johnson. It was a modest success and would go on to create five films in all. The last, 1921's By Right of Birth included a cameo for none other than Booker T. Washington. They would stay in business for a while longer, officially folding in 1923. The complete lack of crossover success meant that the company could not sustain itself.