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"The movies are popular in the Negro section of Chicago, Illinois" (Detail)
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Black Film in Chicago


During this period, the Defender was widely regarded as the country’s leading “Race” newspaper, with a huge percentage of its circulation outside Chicago. As a strident campaigner for Black migration, as well as the first African American newspaper to feature a regular entertainment section, the Defender’s functioned as a guide to urban cultural life for Black readers in Chicago, and for potential migrants in the South. As the Defender represented Black Belt activities to a national readership, Chicago-based Black artists and media entrepreneurs (including filmmakers Foster, Micheaux, and Peter P. Jones) relied on the talent and publicity networks that were centered in Chicago, but also circulated to African American audiences across the country.

Chicago has continued to be an important site for the production of films with Black casts and/or by Black filmmakers, including independent and Hollywood productions, features and documentaries. These include short comedies by the Ebony Motion Picture Company in the late 1910s; location shooting for adaptations of Richard Wright’s Native Son (Pierre Chenal, 1951 and Jerrold Freeman, 1986) and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (Daniel Petrie, 1961); Uptown Saturday Night (Sidney Poitier, 1974); Cooley High (Michael Schultz, 1975); Mahogany (Berry Gordy, 1975); Stony Island(Andrew Davis, 1978); The Women of Brewster Place (Donna Dietch, 1989); Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994); Hoodlum (Bill Duke, 1997); Soul Food (George Tillman, Jr., 1997); Barbershop (Tim Story, 2002); and Barbershop 2 (Kevin Rodney Sullivan, 2004).

Chicago has also continued to be the home of a large and diverse Black film audience and a thriving moviegoing culture. Chicago is home of one of the first Black-owned theaters to show moving pictures (the Pekin at 27 th and State Streets); boasts one of the first elaborate movie “palaces” built specifically for Black audiences (Baliban and Katz’s Regal Theater at 47th and South Parkway, now Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive); functioned as a key market during the “Blaxploitation” era of the 1970s (when Black action films dominated the programs of downtown theaters like the Chicago and State-Lake theaters); and witnessed a late 1990s reinvestment in “inner city” entertainment markets (such as the construction of the Chatham Theater at 87th Street near the Dan Ryan Expressway).