- 102 boxes
- 1231 videorecordings
- 11 film reels
- 65 audio recordings
- 64 data diskettes
Mary Perry Smith (1926-2015) was an educator, philanthropist, and guardian of Black cultural heritage who cofounded the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, Inc. (BFHFI). Born in Evansville, Indiana, Smith graduated from Ball State University and Purdue in the 1940s and instructed junior high math and science in the San Francisco School District from 1953 to 1961 and at Oakland Tech High School from 1961 to 1978. Noticing how few of her students went on to attend college despite the schools’ close proximity to the University of California, Berkeley, Smith cofounded the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement Program (MESA) in 1969 and switched to working for it full-time in 1978.
Upon the opening of the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) in 1969, Smith and her husband Norvel became actively involved in the museum’s Black History Committee of the Culture and Ethnic Affairs Guild. After organizing several events in the early 1970s celebrating Black scientists and pioneers to the Bay Area, the OMCA began a lecture and awards program in 1974 honoring Black filmmakers of the 1920s through 1950s. Following the tremendous success of the first program, the OMCA expanded subsequent events into a series of annual Black History Month celebrations, which eventually grew into its own separate, incorporated non-profit agency, the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, by 1978. A large-scale volunteer organization, the BFHFI identified itself as an organization "dedicated to influencing Black images portrayed in film and television through education, the nurturing of current independent filmmakers and the preservation of contributions by Black artists" (BFHFI 20th Anniversary Celebration Program). Mary Perry Smith chaired or participated in numerous planning and steering committees in the BFHFI throughout its history, greatly influencing the shape and direction of the organization.
The BFHFI’s events featured a film lecture series, a UC Berkeley-hosted symposium, and the Oscar Micheaux Awards ceremonies (including red carpet receptions and celebrity banquet and dance galas). Inductees and awardees throughout the years included celebrities such as Paul Robeson, Gordon Parks, Sammy Davis, Jr., Diahann Carroll, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry Belafonte, Julie Dash, Spike Lee, Maya Angelou, Richard Pryor, and many others. In addition, the BFHFI also sponsored and hosted various master classes, screenings, and workshops around the Bay Area, and in 1990, founded Black Filmworks, an annual festival showcasing the winning submissions to an independent film competition. Financial difficulties led to the end of the awards show celebrations in 1993, though the BFHFI continued to host Black Filmworks and other smaller events until 2003.
The largest collection held by the BFC/A, the Mary Perry Smith Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame Archives Collection contains a wealth of materials documenting the BFHFI’s activities from 1974-2003. Highlights include: publicity materials and souvenirs such as event flyers, awards ceremony catalogs, press clippings, and press releases; celebrity memorabilia (including costumes, signed novels, and other artifacts belonging to Oscar Micheaux, Ruby Dee, the Nicholas Brothers, Sidney Poitier, Mario Van Peebles, and Phil Moore); photographs, slides, and videorecordings of BFHFI events and ceremonies (including footage of rehearsals and after-party events never made available elsewhere); correspondences (internal and outgoing); and administrative, board, and planning documents. More than half of the over 1,200 videorecordings in the collection are submissions by student and independent filmmakers to the Black Filmworks and the Independent Film, Video & Screenplay competitions—a rare snapshot of the variety of non-mainstream Black filmmaking from the 1990s and early 2000s. Mary Perry Smith’s tireless efforts to assemble and preserve these materials has helped ensure that future generations will have access to documentation on Black filmmaking from the last quarter of the 20th century.