Remembering Maria Williams, The First Black Woman Film Producer Whose Murder Remains Unsolved



She was a multifaceted woman. Some saw her as a teacher, while others in the community saw her as an activist. But she is best known in the film industry, where she made a name for herself as a filmmaker, director, producer, and author.

Maria Thurston Williams was the first African-American woman to work in the film industry. She discharged this role diligently and produced a five-reel crime series titled “Flames of Wrath”.

According to Baton Rouge Proud, it included murder, theft, and criminal investigations, giving moviegoers suspense and putting them on the edge. If Flames of Wrath were cast in the twenty-first century, it would be a contender for any of today’s blockbuster crime series.

She had a passion for writing, which led her into the media landscape. From 1891 to 1894, she was the editor-in-chief of the Kansas City weekly New Era. She later founded her own newspaper, Women’s Voice, which focused on underreported issues affecting women. It was funded by the Republican Party’s women’s wing.

Williams was born Maria Priscilla Thurston in 1866 in Kansas City, Missouri, and grew up there. Her love of writing piqued her interest in the film industry. She was both a scriptwriter and an actor. In 1916, she published “My Work and Public Sentiment,” her memoir.

She was passionate about activism and came across as a strong woman. She was an active member of the Good Citizens League, where she frequently served as a speaker and organizer. She was deeply committed to efforts to reduce crime among African Americans.

In 1916, Williams married Jesse L. Williams. In Kansas City, he owned a movie theater and other businesses. Jesse L. Williams co-managed the movie theater with Williams, giving them clout in producing content for black audiences. They later founded the Western Film Producing Company and the Booking Exchange. Williams later wrote the screenplay for Flames of Wrath. She was an active participant in its creation, and she was cast as the prosecuting attorney in the drama series.

In 1923, she became the first Black woman to produce a film as a result of this series. Her life was turned upside down when her husband died the same year.

Williams was assassinated on January 3, 1932. She was shot on the side of the road, miles from her home, by an unknown assailant. She had left her house after a stranger informed her that her assistance was required because the stranger’s brother was ill.

While her murder remains unsolved, historians say it ironically ties into the plot of her series “Flames of Wrath,” in which prosecutors were unable to solve a robbery murder.


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