Maria P. Williams
Activist / Filmmaker
Date Of Birth:
1 January 1866
Date Of Death:
3 January 1932
Place Of Birth:
Best Known As:
The first black woman to write and produce a movie, in 1923
Maria P. Williams is said to be the first black woman to write and produce a movie, 1923’s The Flames of Wrath. Little is known about Maria Priscilla Williams, other than she and her husband Jesse L. Williams started the Western Film Producing Company and Booking Exchange in Kansas City, Missouri sometime around 1920. Maria was a social activist and possibly a teacher, and she had previously published a book, My Work and Public Sentiment (1916). Press reports from 1923 announced The Flames of Wrath as a five-reel mystery “written, acted and produced entirely by colored people,” and described Maria as “secretary and treasurer of the Western Film Producing Co., a Negro corporation of Kansas City.” Williams and her husband also worked at a movie theater and their film company was able to distribute her film to black cinemas in the southeastern U.S. Maria P. Williams and another Kansas City filmmaker, Tessie Souders, are often mentioned in lists of firsts for black women in film. Souders directed but did not produce 1922’s A Woman’s Error. Williams was shot to death in the street in 1932, a crime never solved.
Only one frame of The Flames of Wrath is known to exist; it’s in the George P. Johnson Negro Film Collection, 1916-1977 in the Young Research Library at the University of California at Los Angeles.
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