Among the places her search took her, she said in newspaper interviews, were the national archives of Spain and Belgium, where she found silent classics by Micheaux with the title cards written in the languages of those countries, which she then had to have translated back into English.
In 2000, she and Louise Spence published “Writing Himself Into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films and His Audiences.”
“Pearl Bowser and Louise Spence’s scholarly examination of Micheaux serves a dual purpose,” Renée Graham wrote in a review in The Boston Globe. “Through six essays, they analyze Micheaux’s work, how it was received by both Blacks and whites, and how his films encouraged fresh discussions about race. But Bowser and Spence’s book also rescues the filmmaker’s accomplishments from decades of obscurity.”
Ms. Bowser’s expertise, though, encompassed much more than Micheaux-era films. Her lectures and film series covered a wide range — for instance, she presented “Films of Africa and the Caribbean” at the Brooklyn Museum in 1986. And the collection of hundreds of films, videotapes and audiotapes she donated in 2012 to the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution is rich in material related to Black filmmakers in the 1960s and ’70s.
“Pearl didn’t just revive Micheaux’s legacy; she helped preserve and shape the narrative of independent Black film,” Ina Archer, media conservation and digitization specialist at the museum, said by email. “Across her five-decade career she wove a continuous thread through a century of Black film that is only just now beginning to come into focus.”
Pearl Johnson was born on June 25, 1931, in Harlem, where she grew up. According to a Smithsonian Institution biography, her mother, also named Pearl, was a domestic worker, and young Pearl would often accompany her to work at apartments in Lower Manhattan, helping to fold handkerchiefs in exchange for an allowance.