This week in Black art and culture, Harvard Law School unveils a new seal that replaces the previous crest with links to slavery. The Smithsonian Institution acquires rare antique portraits by the first Black photographers. Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions signs a TV overall agreement with Universal Studio Group. Nia DaCosta becomes the first Black woman filmmaker to have her film, Candyman, open at the top of the box office. In Los Angeles, Destination Crenshaw commissions its first group of Black artists to create new pieces.
Harvard Law School Replaces Its Crest Connected to Slavery
More than five years after retiring its previous seal owing to its connections to slavery, Harvard Law School has revealed a new one. Professor Annette Gordon-Reed ’84 led a working committee of academics, students, alumni and staff in researching and developing the new seal during the last year. The lower three quarters of the new shield feature a pattern of eight overlapping, curving lines inspired by architectural features found in Austin and Hauser halls, as well as the university’s motto, “veritas,” and “lex et iustitia,” law and justice.
Students began calling for the law school’s emblem to be changed in 2015, claiming that the seal at the time, which included the crest of Isaac Royall Jr. (a slaveholder who donated to Harvard’s first law faculty) maintained the history of slavery. A law school committee recommended to the Harvard Corporation in March 2016 that the seal be removed and replaced. Later that month, the corporation approved the recommendation, and the school announced that it will choose a new seal by 2017; most physical representations of the seal immediately were removed from the campus.
Despite these attempts, according to the Harvard Crimson, the shield was still on the front doors of the university building as recently as March 2020. Through focus groups, alumni organizations, meetings with student government representatives, and an email address for submission ideas, Harvard Law School affiliates were encouraged to contribute their recommendations to the working group.
Above: Portrait of Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first and seventh president of Liberia.
Smithsonian Acquires Antique Portraits by First Black Photographers
Larry J. West’s collection was purchased by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), which included 40 daguerreotypes (an early form of photography made on polished metal plates) by prominent 19th-century Black photographers James P. Ball, Glenalvin Goodridge and Augustus Washington, dating from the 1840s to the mid-1920s. SAAM now has the biggest collection of daguerreotypes by these photographers, exceeding the Library of Congress’ collection of 26, according to the museum.
In the 1840s and 1850s, daguerreotypes were extremely popular, with an estimated 3 million to 5 million produced in the United States. However, barely 30,000 to 40,000 of these remain. According to the Smithsonian, the number of daguerreotypes produced by early African American studios is considerably lower, with about 166 for Ball, Goodridge and Washington. The artworks will be added to SAAM’s permanent collection, and a few will be included in the museum’s upcoming early American photography gallery. The collection isn’t expected to go on display until 2023, and the museum is looking for a sponsor to help it continue its study into West’s vast library.
Jordan Peele and Universal Sign Contract
Universal Studio Group has signed a multi-year television agreement with Jordan Peele and his Monkeypaw Productions brand (which produced Candyman alongside MGM). Peele’s previous relationship with Universal Pictures began in 2019 with a Universal Pictures agreement to write and direct the successful horror flicks Get Out and Us, which together made more than $500 million worldwide. Peele rose to prominence in television as the co-star and co-creator of the Emmy-nominated Key and Peele.
During its five-season run, the viral series received over 1billion online views, a Peabody Award, an American Comedy Award, and 12 Emmy Award nominations. Monkeypaw’s other credits include the Tracy Morgan comedy series, The Last O.G.on TBS, and The Twilight Zone on CBS, in addition to Key and Peele. Lovecraft Country, which was nominated for 18 Emmy awards and won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Horror Series, as well as BAFTA TV Award nominations, was released most recently on HBO.
The second season of Hunters is in development at Monkeypaw for Amazon. Peele’s debut feature picture, Universal’s Get Out,was critically acclaimed when it was released in 2017. Peele won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay after the picture received four Academy Award nominations. Peele wrote, produced and directed his second feature, Us, in 2019, which was an instant hit with fans and critics alike, grossing the most money for an original horror film ever. Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta and co-written by DaCosta, Peele and Win Rosenfeld for Monkeypaw and MGM, debuted at No. 1 in the American box office, becoming the first film directed by a Black female filmmaker to do so.
Candyman’s Nia DaCosta: Top Place Box Office Opening
Candyman’s $20.4 million opening weekend makes filmmaker Nia DaCosta the first Black female director to have a film launch in the top place at the American box office. According to Deadline, at the same time, Candyman becomes the second-highest grossing three-day domestic weekend box office hit for a Black female director, surpassing Ava DuVernay’s Disney film,A Wrinkle in Time, which debuted in second place with $33.1 million over the weekend of March 9-11, 2018, trailing the fourth weekend of Black Panther, which grossed $40.8 million.
DuVernay was the first Black woman to direct a $100 million or more film for a major studio. She also directed two episodes of the Netflix revival, Top Boy’s third season in 2019. She graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in cinema and television and the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama with a Master of Arts in writing for stage and broadcast media. Tina Gordon’s Little, Stella Meghie’s The Photograph, and Melina Matsoukas’ Queen & Slim follow DuVernay and DaCosta in box office debuts. DaCosta is presently working on The Marvels, the highly anticipated Captain Marvel sequel, which is set to open on Nov.11, 2022. According to Deadline, by directing this film, she will become the first Black woman to direct a Marvel Studios feature.
L.A.’s Destination Crenshaw Commissions 100 Black Artists
The initial commissions have been revealed for Destination Crenshaw, a huge public art project in Los Angeles that will see 100 Black artists construct outdoor artworks along a 1.3-mile length of Crenshaw Boulevard in the heart of one of the city’s historically Black neighborhoods. New sculptures by Kehinde Wiley, Charles Dickson, Melvin Edwards, Maren Hassinger, Artis Lane, Alison Saar and Brenna Youngblood will kick off the program.
Marqueece Harris-Dawson, the city council member for L.A.’s District 8, which includes much of South Los Angeles, spearheaded Destination Crenshaw when it first began in 2017. The $100 million project has garnered both public and private financing, with activists, museum directors, municipal planners and even the late Nipsey Hussle rallying behind it.
It is one of the most significant projects ever aimed towards Black artists. In addition to the art commissions, Destination Crenshaw will make direct investments in local small businesses, organize infrastructure upgrades, and develop communal spaces and parks. When Destination Crenshaw opens in the fall of 2022, the seven new works will be erected.
-Compiled by Sumaiyah E. Wade