Cut to Black: Did You Know? Maria P. Williams, Producer

For each day in the month of February, the African American Steering Committee will be highlighting Local 700’s African American members, both past and present, and their accomplishments. We look forward to showing the contributions and influences African Americans have had on the industry.

Did you know?

Maria P. Williams (1866-1932) is credited as the first African-American Woman Film Producer for her film “The Flames of Wrath” (1923). A lifelong writer, Mrs. Williams began as a school teacher in Missouri. Her passion for liberal arts and advocacy transitioned into a position as the Editor-In-Chief of a Kansas City newspaper, “The New Era” (1891-1894). Two years after leaving New Era, Maria started her own newspaper, “The Women’s Voice” (1896-1900). She used newspapers as an outlet for social change.

1916 was a busy year for Maria. She published her memoir titled: “My Work and Public Sentiment” and married businessman and entrepreneur Jesse L. Williams. Jesse was the general manager of a motion picture theater. Maria joined him as assistant manager. Together Williams and his wife created a production company, Western Film Producing Company and Booking Exchange. They wanted to have company that could distribute the films Maria wanted to make. According to records documenting the company, Maria served as Treasurer/Secretary. “The Flames of Wrath,” produced at Western Film, is a five-reel silent crime drama in which Maria also starred. The plot concerns the investigation of a murder that occurs after a robbery. We know that Maria and her husband Jesse distributed their film to African-American theaters, and “Flames of Wrath” played in the southeastern US but not much else. No copies of the film survive.

Maria P. Williams was a trailblazing woman who continues to influence the works of contemporary directors such as Julie Dash and Ava DuVernay.