James E. Hinton’s Unseen Films Reframe the Black Power MovementBreaking News
tags: African American history, film history, black power, Cinema
As a photographer, James E. Hinton made pictures of some of the most prominent figures of the civil-rights era: leaders, athletes, and artists including Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Muhammad Ali, Mahalia Jackson, and Miles Davis. Yet the majority of his images—more than forty thousand, many of which are being digitized by Emory University—capture the specifics of more ordinary Black life in mid-century America, that of small-business owners, activists, and, often, children.
Hinton’s work as a cinematographer and filmmaker achieved a similar balance between taking in the grander sweep of history and considering the nature, appearance, manner, and presence of the individual people making it. We see that eye, with its deft movement from wide to narrow focus, in “The New-Ark” and “May Be the Last Time,” two documentaries that Hinton filmed in the late sixties, about the poet Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts Movement, respectively. Both films were recently digitized by the Harvard Film Archive, which holds a collection of Hinton’s work, and you can see excerpts from them in the video above.
The films, as the historian Elizabeth Hinton (no relation) notes, show what organizing and activism looked like on a granular level, and upend some of the popular narratives of Black nationalism, revealing “the joy and energy of the movement that in many ways gets left out of our understandings of this period.”