Norman Studios a pioneer in African American film making | News

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Norman Studios a pioneer in African American film making

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- At the dawn of the 20th century, Jacksonville had as many movie studios as any town in the country.

The River City had 30 studios and was making movies five years before Hollywood got into the game.

The only studio that's still intact today is Norman Studios in Arlington. 

"This was a really quiet part of town," said Rita Reagan, who's on the Norman Studios board of directors and is the resident historian.

She said there was only one lane of road, paved with shell, and one power line that led to the studios that's on the current corner of Westdale Drive and Arlington Road.

"Most of the other studios were on the other side of the river," she said.

The studio's seclusion probably had a great deal to do with how it survived being torn to shreds.

At Norman, they were the only studios making movies with black actors playing roles that were not derogatory.

"This is the 1920s, a period of great racism," Reagan said. "The KKK was burgeoning."

During this time, African Americans in film were depicted in demeaning stereotypes. 

But Norman cast black actors in more glamorous roles.

"He was the only person in the southeast doing it," Reagan said.

But she said they were so well hidden that the KKK never bothered them.

"If they knew what was going on there would have been a problem, but it was really the idyllic situation."

The main product out of Norman Studios was silent films. 

The larger productions included The Flying Ace, Black Gold, as well as The Bull-Dogger which starred Bill Pickett.

For more information on Norman Studios you can click here.


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