Now Showing

Posters from African American Movies

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In November 2019, the Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts (CAAMA) opened Now Showing: Posters from African American Movies, a temporary exhibition exploring the art of movie posters, specifically examining films by black filmmakers or works featuring black performers. The exhibition is on view November 22, 2019  April 18, 2021.

Poster for The Black Moses of Soul, Isaac Hayes Special (1973)

Poster for The Black Moses of Soul, Isaac Hayes Special (1973)

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Leith Adams

Now Showing recognizes that good design matters and that film posters straddle an interesting role within the film industry; they serve as both art and advertising. Through the design, movie posters can help frame ideas, create moods, and stoke interest in the film and its main characters. This exhibition recognizes the fine line of art and commerce; it celebrates the Museum’s sizable poster collection, and offers an abbreviated visual history of African Americans in cinema.     

The exhibition objects are culled in large part from the Richards Collection, a poster collection acquired by the museum in 2014 that includes more than 700 film posters and lobby cards. Now Showing features original posters and lobby cards and select ephemera from the Museum’s permanent collection. It introduces audiences to some of the pioneers of black cinema, highlights the Museum’s poster collection and its continued dedication to visual culture, and it shows how films geared toward African American audiences have been presented over the years.


The exhibition is organized into four main sections:

Film Pioneers

This section introduces early African American filmmakers who made movies for black audiences that were enthusiastically received when most depictions of black people were stereotypical.

"Dark Manhattan," 1937
Harry Fraser (1889–1974), director
Ralph Cooper (1908–1992), director (uncredited)
Sack Amusement Enterprises
From A Cinema Apart: African American Film Memorabilia

Photo credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Problem of the Color Line

This section features films that have attempted, albeit at times crudely, to examine the complexities of what it means to live in a society where being black and passing for white may bring with it troubling and tragic consequences.

"Pinky," 1949
Elia Kazan (1909–2003), director
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
From A Cinema Apart: African American Film Memorabilia

Photo credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Poster for

A Star is Born

Here we explore how the increased interest in film helped many celebrities reach an expanded sense of fame and recognition. These increased opportunities were often a source of pride for black audiences wanting to have greater representation in film.

"Harlem on the Prairie," 1937
Sam Newfield (1899–1964), director
Toddy Pictures Company

Photo credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Poster for No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger 1968

Black Power & “Blaxploitation”

This section highlights the proliferation of films geared specifically toward black audiences during the late 1960s – 1970s.

"No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger," 1986
David Loeb Weiss (1911–2005), director
The Cinema Guild

Photo credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Gay Young and Daniel Schindler

For the first time at the Museum, Now Showing will include Augmented Reality. Audiences will be able to explore more information about select objects through the use of state-of-the-art interactive technology. 

Exhibition Highlights

Explore some of the collection items from the Now Showing exhibition.

  • Lobby card for Cabin in the Sky 1943
    Lobby card for "Cabin in the Sky," 1943
  • Lobby card for Go Down, Death! 1944
    Lobby card for "Go Down, Death!," 1944
  • Lobby card for "Imitation of Life," 1928
    Lobby card for "Imitation of Life," 1928
  • Lobby card for Lem Hawkins' Confession 1935
    Lobby card for "Lem Hawkins' Confession," 1935
  • Lobby card for Lost Boundaries 1949
    Lobby card for "Lost Boundaries," 1949
  • Advertisement for A Prince of His Race 1926
    Advertisement for "A Prince of His Race," 1926