Richard E. Norman (1891-1960) began a film production company in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1920. His studio would perform groundbreaking work on the positive portrayal of African Americans on the screen. The typical movie of that era pictured blacks in a negative way. However, between 1920 and 1928 Norman Film Manufacturing Company made eight feature films about black heroes and heroines. This young white man operated the best of the silent studios that promoted the black man.
In 1921 Norman Films came to Oklahoma to produce a film in the All-Black town of Boley. The "All Colored Cast" produced a western called the The Crimson Skull. The plot depicted "the Skull" and his band of outlaws, called the "Terrors." It was a six-reel film promoting Bill Pickett, "World's Champion Wild West Performer." Pickett had long been a star at the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch Wild West Show, and now he moved into the entertainment arena of the silent movie.
A 1923 handbill introduced The Bulldogger, another silent Norman picture filmed in Oklahoma, as "the first picture of its kind, and prove(s) conclusively that the black cowboy is capable of doing anything the white cowboy does." In The Bulldogger, Pickett returned to star in this western about bulldogging, trick riding, roping, and horse racing. The last black film produced by Norman Film came in 1928 and was also set in Oklahoma. Titled Black Gold, the movie was shot near the All-Black town of Tatums and told the story of the mad rush for oil in Oklahoma. The plot depicts a rancher who stakes everything he owns on a well and then is destroyed when the town banker conspires against him.
For black Americans of the 1920s Norman Film provided heroes, heroines, thrills, and adventure. Oklahoma, with its large concentration of All-Black towns, created a perfect setting for this action.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Richard E. Norman Collection, Black Film Center/Archive, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Henry T. Sampson, Blacks in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1977).
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