In 1976, a remarkable group of Black feminist artists organized the first ever Black women’s film festival, the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts, at the Women’s Interart Center in New York. Screening films by at least sixteen Black women directors, the festival was simultaneously a celebration of the emerging world of Black women’s filmmaking and a radical call for the kinds of socio-political and institutional changes necessary for a Black women’s film culture to thrive. This essay uses archival materials and personal interviews to reconstruct the festival, arguing that although it has long been overlooked, it represents a foundational moment for Black feminist film culture and epitomizes the cross-arts networks of influence that shaped Black feminist artmaking in the period. At the same time, engaging with a fragmentary archive, the essay reflects on the forms of speculation needed to reconstruct the events, lived experiences, and long-term legacies of the festival.
The 1976 Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts: A Speculative History of the First Black Women’s Film Festival
Hayley O’Malley (University of Iowa) is a film historian and literary critic, and her interdisciplinary scholarship focuses on African American literature, film, and visual culture, with a particular emphasis on Black women’s art and activism. She earned her PhD in English and a certificate in African American and Diasporic Studies from the University of Michigan, and she is currently an assistant professor of Cinematic Arts at the University of Iowa. Her writing has been published in Black Camera, ASAP/J, Shakespeare On Stage and Off, and The James Baldwin Review.
Hayley O’Malley; The 1976 Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts: A Speculative History of the First Black Women’s Film Festival. Feminist Media Histories 1 July 2022; 8 (3): 127–154. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2022.8.3.127
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