UChicago film scholar Jacqueline Stewart awarded MacArthur Fellowship

Jacqueline Stewart

Prof. Jacqueline Stewart, a leading film scholar known for her work on silent films and African American cinema, has been awarded a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship.

Given each year by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the prestigious grants recognize individuals from across disciplines who “show exceptional creativity in their work.” As a MacArthur Fellow, Stewart will receive a no-strings-attached grant of $625,000 over five years to support creative pursuits.

“I’m thrilled—I’m really surprised,” said Stewart, who is appointed in UChicago’s Department of Cinema and Media Studies. “I did not realize that I was under consideration for this, so it’s amazing. ... It’s just an incredible validation of my work.”

Stewart’s scholarship has focused on films produced by and for African Americans, including what are called “orphan films,” which exist outside of commercial filmmaking.

Since 2019, Stewart has been the host of “Silent Sunday Nights” on Turner Classic Movies, which showcases films from the silent era. She is currently on leave in Los Angeles, where she is serving as the inaugural chief artistic and programming officer at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which opens on Sept. 30.

In an interview with the MacArthur Foundation, Prof. Jacqueline Stewart discusses the “underexplored” mutual relationship between Black identity and cinema.

Video courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

In its announcement of the 2021 class of fellows, the MacArthur Foundation cited Stewart for her work “illuminating the contributions that overlooked Black filmmakers and communities of spectators have made to cinema’s development as an art form.”

“By bridging academic and public realms,” the announcement read, “Stewart is spotlighting the community dynamics that make cinema meaningful and ensuring that visual histories that might otherwise have remained in the shadows have a place in the public imagination.”

Stewart said she has sought to bridge the gap between African American studies and film studies, in part through “moments of exchange” with community members on Chicago’s South Side, where Stewart herself grew up.

“I’ve always wanted to figure out how to bring the study of cinema and the study of race into productive and innovative dialogue,” Stewart said. “I wanted to think about how the experiences of people of color as spectators and filmmakers are relevant to the way that cinema developed as a medium and as a cultural institution.”

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