In 1916 The Lincoln Motion Picture Company was the first movie company organized by black filmmakers.
Lincoln was organized on May 24, 1916, by actor Noble Johnson, who served as president of the company. The secretary was Clarence A. Brooks, also an actor. Dr. James T. Smith, a well-to-do druggist, served as treasurer and Dudley A. Brooks was the initial assistant secretary of the company. Formal California incorporation was granted on January 20, 1917, with the value of produced films and equipment appraised at $15,623.68 by Henry McRae, manager of production at Universal, and actor Harry Carey, who often used Noble Johnson as a character actor in his films (Johnson’s film career in Hollywood began in 1913 and included a small role in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Squaw Man). On April 30, 1917, the Lincoln Motion Picture Company was given the approval to issue 25,000 shares of common stock.
The first Lincoln production was The Realization of a Negro's Ambition (released in mid-1916), a two-reel film which company publicity releases proclaimed was a “Drama of love and adventure, a picture with a good moral, a vein of clean comedy and beautiful settings.” The plot concerned a young engineering graduate of the Tuskegee Institute who leaves the family farm to try his hand in the oil fields of Los Angeles. Turned away because he is Black, the young man rescues a white woman in a runaway carriage. She turns out to be the daughter of the oil company owner, who offers the young man a job with the company's oil exploration team. Later, the young engineer realizes that his parents' farmland shows oil possibilities, and the company owner bankrolls the exploratory drilling tests that eventually prove successful.
The second Lincoln production was a three-reeler titled A Trooper of Troop K (released January 1917), which dealt with a massacre of Black troops in the Army's 10th Cavalry during the U. S. campaign against Mexican bandits and revolutionaries in 1916. Filmed in the San Gabriel Valley with a cast of over three hundred extras, the Lincoln company was able to secure costumes and props from the more established Hollywood studios.
White audiences simply were not interested at the time, even though The Los Angeles Examiner noted with somewhat condescending amazement that By Right of Birth “ . . . offers proof that colored players can develop histrionic talent above that required for straight comedy.” Without a wider audience, the Lincoln Motion Picture Company was doomed to failure and By Right of Birth proved to be the company's swan song.
White audiences simply were not interested at the time, even though The Los Angeles Examiner noted with somewhat condescending amazement that By Right of Birth “ . . . offers proof that colored players can develop histrionic talent above that required for straight comedy.”
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