Welcome to Wonder Rooms, a collaborative archival and data collection project that looks at the fissures in traditional museum structures by turning MoMI’s long-running exhibit Behind the Screen into a site of testimony and witness.

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This is a new media artwork by Mala Kumar, commissioned by Museum of the Moving Image through generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts (Media Arts Program).

Lobby Card for The Bronze Venus, 1938


The Bronze Venus was a 1938 musical “race movie” that is best known as the film debut of Lena Horne, a pioneering Brooklyn-born Black actress, singer, and dancer. The film was originally released as “The Duke is Tops” in 1938 and then re-released as “The Bronze Venus” in 1943 after Horne became a star. Called the “feminine counterpart of Paul Robeson” by Liberty magazine, and much like Robeson, Horne’s career was defined by her civil rights activism and was marked by periods of blacklisting due to her suspected ties to Communist groups. Horne later denounced Communism, restoring her status and allowing her to continue on to a renewed success in Hollywood.

Tags: Film, Segregation

Additional Notes

“American racial segregation, combined with the demeaning stereotypes of African-Americans featured frequently in early movies, prompting the development of an extensive film production and exhibition circuit - the so-called race-film market-that operated independently of Hollwood. Between 1912 and 1948, this market was fed by more than 150 companies, both black-owned and white-owned, which produced more than 350 films. Developers built “colored-only” theaters to serve the segregated cities and towns of the South, as well as neighborhood theaters in African-American communities in the North. in 1921, a survey counted 308 U.S. theaters, both Black-owned and white-owned, that catered primarily to African-American audiences. By the late 1920s, that number had risen to nearly seven hundred. The market for race movies was much greater in the segregated South than in the North. Black patrons were admitted to all theaters in the North, although often in designated seating only. Paradoxically, this sharply limited the number of northern distribution outlets for race movies. By the 1950s, these theaters were all but gone.” (Card description for "Segregated Theaters and the Race Movie" at Museum of Moving Image)

Further reading

Meroney, John. “The Red-Baiting of Lena Horne.” The Atlantic. August 27, 2015.