This is a great question, and an important one.
As we know, the one who gets to tell their story is the one who writes history. We can list off the names of the many “great” male filmmakers, and the stories they told: stories about our roles in society - stories about class, race, gender, and who could love whom - were told and reinforced by the films that were funded, distributed widely, written about, and ultimately preserved and archived. Those are the films we study today.
But try to trace the films of Black women who made films in the Jim Crow era of American history, and you will be hard pressed to find them. Almost all, other than Zora Neale Hurston’s, are lost. Scholars such as award-winning contemporary filmmaker Yvonne Welbon, and the Women’s Film Pioneer Project at Columbia University, have researched early African American women filmmakers in pursuit of the question “Who was the first?” Like most early Black filmmakers, these films are much more difficult to track down than the more mainstream films of the silent era. Since many films by African American women have been lost, scholars look for evidence of these women’s existence elsewhere - in advertisements and in newspapers, searching for any mention of Black women and their work.
Tressie Souders’ film A Woman’s Error was released in 1922 and was distributed by the Afro-American Film Exhibitors’ Company based in Kansas City, Missouri. One reference to her film, in the book Blacks in Black and White, led Welbon to research Souders in the Black press of that era. In her dissertation, “Sisters of Cinema,” Yvonne Welbon quotes The Billboard which refers proudly in their review of A Woman’s Error to “the first of its kind to be produced by a young woman of our race” and, most importantly, they see it as a “picture true to Negro life.” Any film with the title A Woman’s Error is bound to be one worth watching, and I hope it is located one day.