AKA: Masters of Invention
Genre: Historical Documentary
Year Released: 1995
Distributor: LightStream Media
Running Time: 23 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: George Washington Carver: An Uncommon Life, Famous Inventions That Changed the World, Tesla: Master of Lightning, More Than a Month, Hidden Colors
-LightStream Media has the documentary streaming on YouTube.
-Narrator Glenn Gilliam would eventually be a host on What’s the 411 Sports. Prior to that, he was a marketing executive on Wall St.
-One of the inventors mentioned was Elijah McCoy who was born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada (currently an unincorporated part of Essex). He had fifty-seven patents to his name and there’s even a play called The Real McCoy which first premiered in his native Canada before playing in America. Besides his work in Canada and America, he was cefrtified as an engineer in Scotland.
-Inventor Lewis Howard Latimer is the inventor of the carbon filament which is still used in light bulbs to this day. Thomas Edison originally had a paper filament, but it lasted nowhere near as long as Latimer’s filament. Also, he has a patent of the electric lamp and invented water closets (toilets) for railway train cars.
Originality and innovation are qualities I treasure. I do my best to be original in the several disciplines I do when it comes to my creative projects. I enjoy learning about people and respect them for being pioneers in numerous fields. It also enrages me when I notice that people praise copycats and plagiarists for their works, but you already knew about that. I mean, I covered three media properties from Japan that were ripped off by Hollywood, and I recently reviewed a music documentary involving a song that was plagiarized let alone associated with a very famous copycat of an animated film. Besides that, I’ve been on a huge kick to find out about all these originators and inventors in their fields that most people have never heard of. Coincidentally, many of them happen to be Black and it lead me to a certain documentary.
Nikola Tesla, you’re not the only one who deserved better when it comes to knowing about you and your inventions (that and Thomas Edison is a thieving jerk).
Making It Happen: Masters of Invention is a historical documentary which talks about numerous Black inventors and innovators across multiple fields. Some range from the everyday item, useful products or services, and to actual breakthroughs that have saved many lives. The thing is most of these inventors haven’t been taught in many a school. During a long time period in America, it used to be illegal for Black people to patent their own inventions, so slave owners and other White businessmen would steal these innovations while getting all the credit. Masters of Invention dispels that notion by naming examples such as dry cleaning, golf tees, blood banks, boat propellers, peanut products, and vision restoring cataract surgery to name a few.
There was so much information to take in, my head was spinning from all this knowledge, but that was a good thing. Prior to this documentary, the only inventors mentioned here that I had actually heard of during my childhood were George Washington Carver and Lonnie Johnson. The only reason why I knew about the latter was because of an episode of The Proud Family of all things back in the day where Penny name drops several Black inventors and mentioned that the Super Soaker was made by him. It goes to show how much I haven’t learned in both the K-12 system, community college, and at a four year university. Anyways, I was enthralled hearing about all these inventors and how they tried to improve life in different ways. Hearing about Garrett Morgan with his gas mask and electric traffic signal (Fact: he came up with the idea of a yellow light after seeing so many collisions), Charles Drew with his blood bank system, and even Granville T. Woods inventing the roller coaster was a nice jolt of history that I had never even heard of, but that was only scratching the surface. Besides the history and facts presented, there was a nice mix of archived footage and art montages for each of the people mentioned. Glenn Gilliam would even have visual aids such as playing golf in one scene, standing right by enlarged postage stamp pictures of the inventors he would talk about, and showing original inventions was a nice touch on what would’ve been an otherwise bland sound stage. One can even make an argument that someone can learn more about Black inventors in twenty-three minutes than going through twelve years of school. The only reason why I knew some of the names such as Benjamin Montgomery, Elijah McCoy, or Dr. Patricia Bath was only because of my autodidact tendencies with recent research I did by myself. That was quite good.
Masters of Invention could’ve been tweaked to be a better educational and historical documentary. This was made in 1995 and it showed with the graphics and cinematography which has shown it’s age (the brief scene of a man holding a giant cell phone from that decade doesn’t help). There was some CGI in some of the montages which were unfortunately dated so much even compared to movies which came out later in the 90s. While I applaud the information presented, I thought it went way too fast, so it took a while to recap the names and who invented what. One can make a case that several of these inventors can have documentaries all to themselves (Yes, I know PBS did that George Washington Carver: An Uncommon Life doc, but there should be more). I also hate to be that guy, but I have to call out a faulty piece of information which dealt with Madame C. J. Walker. Contrary to popular belief, she’s NOT the first African-American female millionaire. It was none other than Annie Turnbo Malone who made several beauty products and made the first Black cosmetology college. C. J. Walker was actually a former client/mentee before she started her own business and even used Malone’s formulas for her own business which screwed over the Metropolis, Illinois-born, Chicago-based beauty inventor (major props to Kreb for showing me info about Annie Turnbo Malone!). That wasn’t a highlight of all the inventors mentioned in this documentary.
This short documentary chronicling Black inventors was a fine watch. So much of the information was presented in a simple and quick way to introduce people to these forgotten innovators of their fields. It was also good mentioning the reality of patent laws and how some of them were ripped off for their works as they tried to support their families and help mankind. The diversity of the products and inventions was eye-opening and I know several people will learn lots of things. Unfortunately, the presentation has certainly aged and I took umbrage with Gilliam mentioning C. J. Parker instead of Annie Turnbo Malone who should’ve gotten the spotlight for multiple reasons. Despite some of those flaws, Masters of Invention was entertaining as well as educational for anyone who cares about originality and forgotten inventors.
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1 point if you enjoy researching lesser-known inventors.
Subtract 1 point if you prefer crisp production in your documentaries.
-Immense amount of historical information
-Glenn Gilliam’s enthusiasm about the subject matter
-Eye-opening presentation on several people and their innovations
-Fallacious info about Madame C. J. Walker
-So much information is crammed in a short period of time
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Warning: Making It Happen is a safe watch for older children and up. The content does get intense with slavery playing a key part in a good portion of the inventors. That imagery is brought up with illustrations of Black men and women chained up and one scene has brief full frontal nudity with the women. Racism is mentioned and the word “Negro” is used in a quote in a very disparaging way from a bigoted author who claimed that Black people couldn’t invent anything.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Making It Happen: Masters of Invention is property of LightStream Media. The DVD cover is from LightStream Media and is property of LightStream Media.