Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Black Oscar: Inspirational Artist, Oscar Micheaux

As you all well know, tonight is Oscar night! Meh. Well, since this Academy Awards will not be recognizing any African American actors or filmmakers, I decided to feature one of the great Black Oscars in history: Oscar Micheaux. 

Known as the 1st African American to produce a feature-length film, Mr. Micheaux was the prolific writer, director and producer of more than 44 films between 1919 and 1948! You KNOW that had to be a struggle. I mean, we weren't even allowed to sit at the front of the bus yet, and this brotha was cranking out amazing, revolutionary films. His films dealt with the African American struggle for equality in a hostile world. Read more about him after the jump.

Mr. Michaeaux was also an accomplished author who wrote 7 books. His first was self-published and distributed. The Homesteader was about his experiences at a Black homesteader and the failure of his first marriage. The book caught the attention of George Johnson, manager of the L.A. based Lincoln Motion Picture Company, who offered to make it into a film. No shrinking violet, Mr. Michaeux demanded that he be allowed to direct the film. After Mr. Johnson refused, Micheaux started his own company Micheaux Film and Book Company.  Yes, he was on the grind! An brilliant entrepreneur, Michaeux sold shares to his wealthy White friends that he met when he worked as a Pullman Porter. His first film, The Homsteader, was a critical and commercial success. 

His second film was also one of his most significant.  Within Our Gates is often considered his response to D.W. Griffith's racist classic, Birth of a Nation. The story centers around a young Black woman who travels North to find financing to build a school for poor black children in the South. The film depicts lynchings and the rape of black women by white men. In 1920? Yes, he was bold as hell! This film was selected to be preserved in the U.S. Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center, a significant achievement.

Although Michaeux died in 1951, his legacy lives on! In 1987,  he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In addition, each August Gregory, South Dakota holds the Oscar Micheaux Film Festival. This brotha' even got his own stamp in 2010.

He paved the way for countless filmmakers of color that came after him. As his gravestone reads, Oscar Micheaux was "a man ahead of his time." Thank you, Mr. Michaeux, for your courage, talent and sacrifice. We celebrate you. And I thank you for making my dream more attainable.

To learn more about Oscar Michaeux, check out Midnight Ramble, a documentary on his life or read Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America's First Black Filmmaker by Patricia Mcgilligan.

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