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, Alile Sharon Larkin, Jamaa Fanaka, O.Funmilayo Makarah, 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 served 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 also include nontheatrical film. With Marsha Gordon, Field is co-editor of Screening Race in American Nontheatrical Film (Duke University Press, 2019), a project inspired by their research on Felicia (1965).
In 2017, she and film archivist Dino Everett identified a rare 19th century nitrate film print in Everett’s collection as Something Good-Negro Kiss filmed by William Selig in Chicago in 1898. Featuring vaudeville performers Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown, the film represents the earliest portrayal of African American affection on screen. They successfully nominated the film to the National Film Registry in 2018. Field is currently writing a book on the archival rediscovery and afterlives of Something Good-Negro Kiss, tentatively titled Minstrelsy-Vaudeville-Cinema: American Popular Culture and Racialized Performance in Early Film (under contract with University of California Press). In support of this project, Field received a 2020-2021 Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).
Extending from Uplift Cinema’s investments in methodologies of doing non-extant film history, she is also working on a book tentatively titled The Speculative Archive, interested in incorporating methods of speculation into film historiography. Related to this project, she guest edited two special issues of Feminist Media Histories (Spring and Summer 2022) on Speculative Approaches to Media Histories.
Field’s other current research projects include early Black filmmaking in Chicago, focusing on figures such as William Foster on the south side and Luther J. Pollard and Ebony Film Corporation on the north side. She is also at work on an ongoing project on Noble Johnson, the first Black movie star.
Along with Yvonne Welbon (Sisters in Cinema), Monica Freeman (independent filmmaker and curator), Hayley O’Malley (University of Iowa), and Michael J. Phillips (Southside Projections), she is currently planning a 2023 retrospective and homage to the 1976 Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts, considered the first Black women’s film festival.
Field was named a 2019 Academy Film Scholar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 2021, Field was appointed to the National Film Preservation Board by the Librarian of Congress.
Recent Journal Articles & Book Chapters
Guest Editor and Introductions, Special Issues on Speculative Approaches to Film Histories, Feminist Media Histories 8.2 (Spring 2022) and 8.3 (Summer 2022).
“The Cinema of Racialized Attraction(s): The John C. Rice-May Irwin Kiss and Something Good-Negro Kiss,” Discourse 44.1 (Winter 2022): 3-41.
“Archival Rediscovery and the Production of History: Solving the Mystery of Something Good-Negro Kiss (1898).” Film History 33.2 (Summer 2021): 1-33.
“Making the Absent Present: Writing about Nonextant Media” in Writing About Screen Media, ed. Lisa Patti (Routledge, 2020): 92-95.
Recent Online Publications
“The Story of a Three Day Pass: Ordinary Love.” Essay on The Story of a Three Day Pass (1967) for Melvin Van Peebles: Essential Films, Criterion Collection’s Melvin Van Peebles boxset (September 2021).
“Seeing Life Through a Different Lens.” With Marsha Gordon. Sight & Sound 31.3 (April 2021): 19-21.
“Felicia (1965)” Now See Hear! Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center Blog, 2021.
“Ham and Eggs at the Front.” Program notes for Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. 2021.
"Glenville." Black One Shot 14.2 ASAP/Journal. August 27, 2020
“Black Cinema at Its Birth.” Criterion’s The Current. March 3, 2020
“No Blackface… just #BlackLove.” Domitor Snapshots. October 2019
“A Portrait of Love, Grief, and Injustice: Strong Island (Yance Ford, 2017).” Docalogue. April 2018
Selected Interviews and Media Coverage
- History of International Cinema, Part I: Silent Era (Autumn 2022; CMST 28500 /48500)
- Film and the Moving Image (Autumn 2022; CMST 14400)
- Creating a Different Image: Black Women's Filmmaking of the 1970s-90s (Winter 2023; CMST 21025/31025)
- Speculation (Spring 2023)
Previous courses taught include: Research Design and Archival Theory and Practice for Cinema and Media Studies (Spring 2022 - CMST 29022 / 39022), Minstrelsy-Vaudeville-Cinema: Racialized Performance and American Popular Culture (CMST 61820), The L.A. Rebellion and the Politics of Black Cinema (CMST 61102), and African American Cinema 1900-1950 (CMST 21019 / 31019)