A Choice Outstanding Academic Book of 2001
A critical examination of the films of Oscar Micheaux.
One of the most original and successful filmmakers of all time, Oscar Micheaux was born into a rural, working-class, African-American family in mid-America in 1884, yet he created an impressive legacy in commercial cinema. Between 1913 and 1951 he wrote, directed, and distributed some forty-three feature films, more than any other black filmmaker in the world, a record of production that is likely to stand for a very long time.
Micheaux's work was founded upon the concern for class mobility, or uplift, for African Americans. Uplift provided the context for Micheaux's extensive commentary on racist cinema, such as D. W. Griffith's 1915 blockbuster, The Birth of a Nation, which Micheaux "answered" with his very early films Within Our Gates and Symbol of the Unconquered. Uplift explains Micheaux's use of "negative images" of African Americans as well as his multi-pronged campaign against stereotype and caricature in American culture. His campaign produced a body of films saturated with a nuanced intertexual "signifying," boldly and repeatedly treating controversial topics that face white censorship time after time, topics ranging from white mob and Klan violence to light-skin-color fetish to white financing of black cultural productions.