MacArthur Fellow Jacqueline Stewart Preserves Film History

Today, in anticipation of the upcoming 2023 MacArthur Fellowship announcements, FF2 revisits 2021 winner Dr. Jacqueline Stewart. Jacqueline is a film scholar, professor, and writer. Her professional career has seen Jacqueline take on monumental tasks in all corners of the film industry: from the preservation of historical home movies to directing the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures itself. 

Jacqueline grew up in Chicago, where she would later base much of her preservation work. She studied English at Stanford before going on to earn her AM and PhD in the same subject at the University of Chicago. Making a switch from the page to the screen, Jacqueline continued her education in moving image archiving at both UCLA and Italy’s Cineteca di Bologna. After finishing her own schooling, she went on to teach African-American film history at both Northwestern and the University of Chicago.

Jacqueline focuses her studies and research on the history of African-American filmmaking and viewership. In 2005, she authored the book Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity. In her article on Jacqueline, FF2 contributor Anna Nappi calls Migrating to the Movies “a masterful study of film culture in Chicago, specifically in relation to Black spectators who engaged with the art form at the same time as they moved from the South of the United States to the North.” 

Jacqueline’s work does not stop at study alone; her career has been driven by her commitment to film preservation.

Jacqueline’s work does not stop at study alone; her career has been driven by her commitment to film preservation. In 2005, Jacqueline founded the South Side Home Movie Project, which collects and preserves the home movies of residents of Chicago’s South Side. These films, along with interviews with their filmmakers, stand as a physical reminder of the culture of the past. In a video spotlighted on the organization’s website, the Alsup Smith family films a night spent at 1979’s ChicagoFest. The home movie begins with family members smiling and speaking to the camera, and culminates with a dazzling performance by Gloria Gaynor. Though ChicagoFest is now defunct, and 1979 long over, the video preserves the moment and the people in it. The project’s collection contains over seven hundred films which stretch over five decades. Events or memories which may have been forgotten or pushed under the rug will now live on forever in their archives, just the same as the day they were created. 

The 2010s would prove an incredibly busy decade for Jacqueline. In 2015, she co-wrote the book L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema. The next year, she co-curated the anthology Pioneers of African-American Cinema. In 2018, Jacqueline had the distinction of being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a prestigious honor—one she very rightfully deserved.

In 2019, Jacqueline made history when Turner Classic Movies named her their new host.

In 2019, Jacqueline made history when Turner Classic Movies named her their new host. The beloved channel which provides the public access to historic films and commentary had never before had an African-American host. Each week, Jacqueline greets American cinephiles for Silent Sunday Nights. With her extensive knowledge of and passion for film, she welcomes viewers into the worlds of the greatest films of all time.

In 2020, Jaqueline was named the Academy Museum’s newest Chief Artistic and Programming Officer; a large role which she handled on top of her numerous other duties. As Jacqueline’s work and research continued, so did public notice of it. Jacqueline was selected for fellowships from both Princeton’s Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies and New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Scholars-in-Residence Program. Then, in 2021, Jacqueline was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, or “Genius Grant”, for her work in preserving and exhibiting the work of Black filmmakers. Though this achievement seems beyond comparison, her successes continued. 

Jacqueline is currently the chair of the Library of Congress’s National Film Preservation Board, & President and Director of the Academy Museum!

Jacqueline is currently the chair of the Library of Congress’s National Film Preservation Board. She is also the leader of their diversity task force. In 2022, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures announced Jacqueline’s appointment as Director and President of the institution. As she has for her entire career, she is in charge of overseeing the preservation and display of film history.

As enthusiasts of film and the women who make and protect it, FF2 celebrates Jacqueline. We look forward to seeing the ways she will continue both to drive the film industry forward, and to preserve its past. 

© Reese Alexander (9/28/23) — Special for FF2 Media


Read Anna Nappi’s article on Jacqueline here.

Visit the South Side Home Movie Project‘s website.

Order Jacqueline’s book Migrating to the Movies here.

Visit Jacqueline’s Wikipedia page here.

Read the AMPAS statement announcing Jacqueline Stewart’s appointment as President and Director of the Academy Museum!


Featured Photo: Portrait of Jacqueline Stewart. Photo Credit: © John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Source. Used with permission under Creative Commons license CC BY 4.0.

Tags: Academy Museum, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Gloria Gaynor, jacqueline stewart, L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema, Library of Congress, MacArthur Fellows, MacArthur Genius Grants, migrating to the movies: cinema and black urban modernity, Pioneers of African-American Cinema, South Side Home Movie Project, Turner Classic Movies, University of Chicago

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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