Ph.D., Comparative Literature, Harvard University
Research interests: African American cinema; silent cinema; non-extant film; film historiography; nontheatrical film; American independent cinema; Hollywood; film exhibition; archival and curatorial work; race and representation; film and activism; legacies of political modernism.
Allyson Nadia Field’s scholarship contributes to evolving areas of study that investigate the functioning of race and representation in interdisciplinary contexts surrounding cinema. Her primary research interest is in African American film, both silent era cinema and more contemporary filmmaking practices, and is unified by two broad theoretical inquiries: how film and visual media shape perceptions of race and ethnicity, and how these media have been and can be mobilized to perpetuate or challenge social inequities. Her work is grounded in sustained archival research, integrating that material with concerns of film form, media theory, and broader cultural questions of representation.
She is the author of Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film & The Possibility of Black Modernity (Duke University Press, 2015). Uplift Cinema excavates and explores the emergence of Black filmmaking practices in the period prior to D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) and the proliferation of race cinema that began in the late teens. Complementing the rich body of scholarship on later African American theatrical fiction film, Uplift Cinema considers nontheatrical and nonfictional forms of filmmaking that were prominent in this period and emphasizes the major role that cinema played in the self-fashioning of Black civic life in the 1910s, in both northern cities and the rural South. Though these films are now non-extant, Field draws on a range of archival material to argue that “uplift cinema” shows how Black filmmaking developed not just as a response to representational racism in cinema and visual culture but, more importantly, constituted a positive articulation of an original engagement with the new medium.
Field is also, with Jan-Christopher Horak and Jacqueline Stewart, co-editor of L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema (University of California Press, 2015). L.A. Rebellion is the first book dedicated to the films and filmmakers of the L.A. Rebellion, a group of African and African American independent film and video artists that formed at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the 1970s and 1980s. The group—including Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, Haile Gerima, Billy Woodberry, Larry Clark, Jamaa Fanaka, and Zeinabu irene Davis—shared a desire to create alternatives to the dominant modes of narrative, style, and practice in American cinema, works that reflected the full complexity of Black experiences. Field serves as co-curator of the L.A. Rebellion Preservation Project of the UCLA Film & Television Archive and co-organized a major film exhibition of their work, which ran from October-December 2011 at UCLA as part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time and has subsequently traveled nationally and internationally.
Her research interests extend to Blaxploitation and African American film culture of the 1970s, nontheatrical film, orphan and ephemeral media, studio era Hollywood cinema, and contemporary media cultures. She is currently working on a book project on actor and filmmaker Noble Johnson, considered the first Black movie star—a project that argues for an alternative history of the racial politics underlying American studio era cinema, going beyond a black-white binary of race and national identity. She is also co-editing an essay collection with Marsha Gordon on race and nontheatrical film.
From 2008-2015 Field taught in the graduate program in Cinema & Media Studies at UCLA and was on the faculty of Moving Image Archive Studies and African American Studies. In 2007-2008, she was a Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. She received an AB in Art History from Stanford University, a MA in Film and Television Studies from the Universiteit van Amsterdam, and an AM and PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard University.
Selected recent publications:
Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film & The Possibility of Black Modernity (Duke University Press, 2015).
Co-Editor with Jan-Christopher Horak and Jacqueline Stewart. L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema (University of California Press, 2015).
“The Other Side of the Tracks: Nontheatrical Film History, Pre-Rebellion Watts, and Felicia” (with Marsha Gordon). Cinema Journal 55.2 (forthcoming, Winter 2016).
“Stomping on Stepin Fetchit: Historicizing ‘Blackness’ in African American Film Culture of the 1970s” in Beyond Blaxploitation, eds. Gerald R. Butters and Novotny Lawrence (Wayne State University Press, forthcoming 2016).
“To Journey Imperfectly: Black Cinema Aesthetics and the Filmic Language of Sankofa.” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 55.2 (Fall 2014): 171-190.
“Who’s ‘We,’ White Man? Scholarship, Teaching, and Identity Politics in African American Media Studies.” In Focus, Cinema Journal 53.4 (Summer 2014): 134-140.
“John Henry Goes to Carnegie Hall: Motion Picture Production at Southern Black Agricultural and Industrial Institutes (1909-13).” Journal of Popular Film and Television 37.3 (Fall 2009): 106-115.
Recent online posts:
“100 Years of The Birth of a Nation, Or, The Persistence of Cinematic Resistance,” News from Duke University Press (February 10, 2015)
“Dad’s Hollywood Secret,” In Media Res (August 27, 2014)