Sankofa Studies

Zora Neale Hurston – First African-American Woman Filmmaker?

February 20, 2020

Who knew?? 

Better known for her work as a novelist, Zora Neale Hurston could be, according to an essay by Gloria Gibson, the first African-American woman filmmaker. 

The film footage, which includes Children’s Games (1928), Logging (1928), and Baptism (1929), appears to be from her work as a student of anthropology under the tutelage of famed anthropologist, professor and mentor, Dr. Franz Boas. A graduate of Barnard College and a Guggenheim fellow, Hurston traveled to back to a South similar to her hometown of Eatonville, Florida to capture a variety of short takes of African-American life. Ethnographic in nature, the films reflect a focus of folklorists of that time period who believed that “…cultural performance and beliefs must be expeditiously collected and documented because they would soon be gone forever” (Gibson, 205). These films are considered by Gibson to most likely be an element of her research on folklore of African-Americans. 

Check out some rare footage of one of her films: 

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