Film expert Jacqueline Stewart makes a rich contribution to TCM for Black History Month, leading discussions on “Selma” with its star, David Oyelowo, and highlighting the work of Oscar Micheaux and others pioneer filmmakers.
The result is both festive and stimulating.
“Our programming spans from the 1920s to 2014, nearly a century of African American cinema,” Stewart said. “We see the same kind of themes, a call for racial justice. People will have a much deeper idea of the complexity of these issues and why we need to raise these issues in our country. »
February’s list honoring African-American films and creators is just one aspect of how Stewart, TCM’s first and only co-host of color since 2019 and a professor at the University of Chicago, has improved the chain game.
Focusing on black cinema history once a year “cannot be the full experience for TCM,” said Pola Changnon, its chief executive.
“Having Jacqueline at the table, she’s a voice in driving programming selections,” Changnon said. “She’s really great at pointing us to things that we might not have thought of before, not only movies, but also other experts who can really bring those movies to life.
Stewart, whose academic focus is on silent films and film noir, was a guest at TCM before being asked to host the new “Silent Sunday Nights” showcase for domestic and international films and shorts.
In 2021, the newly opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles named her Artistic Director and Director of Programming, with a portfolio including screenings, exhibitions and educational activities. (Stewart is on sabbatical from the Film and Media Studies department at the University of Chicago, where she earned a Ph.D. in English).
The past year has been a banner: Stewart received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, an honor dubbed the Genius Grant, for ensuring that overlooked black filmmakers and audiences have “a place in the public imagination,” as stated by the foundation.
She sees her work as part of a larger and urgent American reassessment: “We all need to think more deeply about issues of racial equality and social justice,” as recent years have shown.
“We’ve had very deep conversations at TCM about what it means to show classic films at this historic moment, and how we can reflect on the legacy of misrepresentation in these films and the erasure of people of color,” she said, and about “sexism and homophobia, transphobia, that you find in classic movies.”
Last year, for TCM’s “Reframed: Classic Films in the Rearview Mirror” project, Stewart and his four co-hosts examined blatant racial stereotyping and other demeaning elements in films including “The Jazz Singer.” from 1927, “Gone with the Wind” from 1939, and “Children’s Hour” from 1961, which portrayed same-sex relationships as shameful.
Stewart’s appearances as a guest expert on TCM eventually landed her on the co-host roster along with Ben Mankiewicz, Dave Karger, Alicia Malone and Eddie Muller.
“We were always so impressed with not only how much she knew coming in, but also how graceful and how present she was on camera and communicating with another host about what she knew,” Changnon said. “Not everyone can translate this kind of academic expertise” for viewers.
Stewart says she’s thrilled with the scope of TCM’s Black History Month programming, which continues Sunday through Feb. 27 and includes fellow college students Racquel Gates and Samantha Sheppard.
“Having two Oscar Micheaux movies, two Philadelphia Colored Players movies — they’re some of the most moving and accomplished early racing movies,” Stewart said, applying the term generally used to refer to the movies. made by and for African Americans in the first half of the 20th century.
“I hope people take the opportunity to see them and to see the conversations we have about them,” she said.
“Oscar Micheaux: The Superhero of Black Cinema,” airing Sunday at 9:30 p.m. EST, examines the work of the director and producer who has made more than 40 silent and sound films. Oyelowo is on board February 20 and 27, for performances such as “Selma,” “Malcolm X” and the 1968 documentary “Black Panthers.”
“I really enjoyed the depth with which he thinks about the importance of the roles he takes on. He talks about playing Dr. Martin Luther King in ‘Selma’…and the urgency of stories like that- there for our contemporary times,” she said.
Stewart’s research, teaching, and writing, including the 2015 book “LA Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema,” prepared her to expand her audience into the world of moviegoers – which she has been a part of ever since. childhood.
Growing up in her native Chicago, Stewart and an aunt regularly indulged in watching late-night movies on television.
“We used to talk about movies during commercial breaks and his passion for classic movie stars,” Stewart recalled. “His fandom really rubbed off on me.”
His attention was drawn to black actors who were largely relegated to minor roles in most Hollywood studio productions.
“They may not be credited and they play servants, but they are there. Our eyes go to these actors, and I’ve always been intrigued by people like Hattie McDaniel and Willie Best and Theresa Harris,” she said. “I’ve always thought that even if black people weren’t not central to the narrative of classic mainstream films, the presence was there.
“I became curious about this presence and wanted to know more about what these people were. And I wanted to think about the racial politics of portraying black people in this way on screen,” Stewart said.
Silent films also fascinated her, becoming a mainstay of her studies.
“I love the silent actor styles because you don’t rely on the dialogue to tell the story. Instead, the actors really do things in terms of the expressions, in terms of how the actors interact with each other,” she said. Silent films are a “much more sophisticated form of artistic expression…and they laid the groundwork for everything that came after.”
Stewart eventually paired his early love of filmmaking with the direction gained by his extended “teacher family” in Chicago’s public schools.
“It’s a family that really believes in education and has a lot of expectations about how best to use the gifts you have and the privileges you have,” she said.