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"The movies are popular in the Negro section of Chicago, Illinois" (Detail)
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Black filmmaking was born on Chicago’s South Side in 1913, when vaudeville promoter and theatrical agent William Foster produced the popular short comedy, The Railroad Porter. In the following years, Chicago continued to serve as the center of African American film production, particularly when the legendary writer/director Oscar Micheaux (who made around 40 “race movies” between 1918-1948) located his first film production offices in Chicago.
As the film industry grew in scope and popularity during the first two decades of the twentieth century, Chicago’s Black entertainment culture, including its film culture, came to national prominence. Compared with other major migration destinations, Chicago’s South Side “Black Belt” boasted a very large number of theaters catering especially to African American audiences, mostly located along the “Stroll,” Black Chicago’s primary commercial and entertainment strip on south State Street. Moving pictures were exhibited in many of the same venues up and down the Stroll in which ragtime and jazz musicians were transforming American music. Amidst music shops and poolrooms, pawn shops and restaurants, barber shops and saloons, theaters showing moving pictures participated in the lively social, business and entertainment scene that was heavily promoted in the pages of the Chicago Defender (which also had offices along the Stroll).