AFI receives a grant for diversity research in early Hollywood

Sessue Hayakawa and Tsuru Aoki, who married in real life, starred in the film “Dragon Painter” (1919).

The American Film Institute (AFI) received a $ 350,000 grant from the National Humanities Foundation (NEH) to begin a Zionist initiative to study thousands of short films released during the silent and early sound period.

Entitled “Behind the Veil” after a lost film from 1914 directed by pioneering film director Lois Weber, the project will be led by AFI’s research team in the AFI catalog, the most authoritative and accessible database in the world of any feature film and American co-production released in the first century of art. The project is designed to document the cultural influence of women and people of color in the creation, distribution and acceptance of early cinema.

According to the NEH, the project is funded in part by a special initiative called “More Perfect Unification,” which “will help Americans commemorate the 250th anniversary of the 2026 Declaration of Independence by exploring, contemplating, or telling stories of our pursuit of a more just society.” Containing and sustainable throughout our history. “

“The Film Scholarship has long favored feature titles, and this partiality has significantly limited historians’ efforts to explore how people from diverse communities created films and how they saw themselves on screen. Sarah Blankport Klothier, AFI Catalog Manager. “Documenting short filmmakers will provide opportunities to discover the work of storytellers not included to date and open new doors of opportunity for a more accurate depiction of America’s cultural heritage.”

The research initiative was designed to document the groundbreaking work of women pioneers and BIPOC who worked primarily on short films in the early days of American cinema, including Alice Guy Blasha, the first director in the world to make hundreds of short films; William D. Foster, the first black filmmaker in America to work solely on short film; And actors like Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki, Myrtle Gonzalez, Red Wing and countless others who started in short films.

By documenting early short films and those involved in their creation, the AFI Catalog will work to expand the scope of scholarships to bring marginal perspectives to light and reveal the complex, multi-layered diversity in the history of American cinema.

In the announcement, my NEH Chairman C. Lowe (Navajo) said, “NEH is proud to support these exemplary education, media, conservation, research and infrastructure projects. These 245 projects will broaden the horizons of our knowledge of culture and history, raise humanities organizations working to preserve and tell the story of local and global communities, and bring high-quality public programs and educational resources directly to the American public. “

The full list of projects awarded, including “Behind the Scarf” by AFI, can be found here: % 20by% 20state% 20.pdf

“Behind the Veil” will continue the innovative work from the AFI catalog on diversity and equality in Hollywood. In 2019, AFI received a $ 350,000 grant from the NEH for the “Women They Talk About” initiative, a groundbreaking project that documented the unrecorded contributions of filmmakers in the silent film era and revealed the true story of women’s pioneering role in the work. Of American cinema.

To explore the AFI Catalog, visit

AFI is a non-profit organization with a mandate to promote the moving image as an art form. AFI, founded in 1967, launched the first comprehensive history of American cinema and spearheaded the U.S. film preservation movement. In 1969, AFI opened the doors of the AFI Conservatory, a graduate program for training narrative filmmakers.

AFI’s ongoing traditions include the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors masters for work that has stood the test of time; AFI AWARDS, celebrating the creative ensembles of this year’s standout screen stories; And academic efforts such as the AFI Feature Film Catalog and the AFI Archive that preserve cinematic history for future generations.

AFI’s exhibition programs include AFI FEST, AFI DOCS and year-round exhibitions at the Epic Silver Theater and Maryland Cultural Center. Other pioneering programs include workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community, including the AFI DWW program and the AFI Cinematography Intensive for Women.

AFI’s newest program is the AFI Film Club, a daily global involvement for those who love movies. Read about all of these programs and more at:

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