This Pioneer Created A Lane For Black Women In Film

old fashioned camera
L. Graciella Maiolatesi
December 16, 2021

Maria Williams wanted to make movies to tell Black stories. It was the early 1920’s, though – countless doors had been slammed in her face. That was, until her husband bought a movie theater. This was her chance!

As the theater’s manager, Williams learned skills that brought her closer to her goal. Then the couple took it a step further and established their own film production company!

Now they could redistribute films through their theater … including her own.

1923 saw the national premiere of “Flames of Wrath,” a film written, produced, and starring Williams. And it was a hit! Black theaters paid $25 daily to show the film, a lot of money for that time. 

No other Black woman was producing films at the time.

Today, film and television have more Black representation than ever – artists like Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe, Janet Mock, Issa Rae, Shonda Rhimes, and Michaela Coel continue to create opportunities for Black people to tell our stories. But it might not have happened without pioneers like Williams.

Like Williams, we must persevere when our work “goes against the grain,” especially if “the grain” is white supremacy’s erasure of Black narratives. Our liberation depends on our truths being told – like Issa Rae once said, we’re “rooting for everybody Black!”

We have a quick favor to ask:

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