"Harkening back to the early years of cinema Black actresses have struggled to gain visibility in Hollywood; thus, the point of discussion for Charlene Regester’s book, African American Actresses: The Struggle for Visibility, 1900 – 1960. In the first chapter of the book, Regester examines the career of Madame Sul-Te-Wan, a pioneer black actress who appeared in more than 50 studio films during the silent era through the Golden Age of Hollywood.
In the early years of the cinematic age, black people were largely prohibited to portray themselves in movies. White actors often depicted black figures, donning blackface. The theatrical performances of white actors wearing black make-up and putting on a minstrel show had become so popular during the 19th century that it naturally progressed into cinema when silent films emerged in the early 20th century. White actors performing in black face was another way to control the image of black people through media.
For this fact, it is important to note that Madame Sul-te-Wan permeated the entertainment industry and developed a long-lasting career as an actress in Hollywood. During this time when black women had been either completely nonexistent on film or given small roles, Sul-Te-Wan’s career spanned five decades from 1915 to 1958. In fact, Madame Sul-Te-Wan was the first African American to sign a film contract."