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.
“Until recently the name Oscar Micheaux might have provoked the question Oscar who? But scholars have now begun to look at this pioneering African American moviemaker. This volume joins Betti Carol VanEpps-Taylor's biography Oscar Micheaux: Dakota Homesteader, Author, Pioneer Filmmaker (1998) and Pearl Bowser and Louise Spence's Writing Himself into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films, and His Audiences (CH, Mar'01), attesting to the intellectual rigor of this trend. Though Green's study is most in the mold of a literary critique, the paucity of Micheaux sources obligates all three authors to write as historians, cultural critics, anthropologists, and decoders. In the absence of script drafts, interoffice memos, gossip columns, memoirs, reviews, and handy prints of films—the stuff of mainstream cinema history—Green (Ohio State Univ.) sets up a critical landscape that allows the reader to sense the density of the culture out of which Micheaux's work arose while also citing sources of his own theoretical modeling. That said, any Micheaux film demands a great deal of creative dissection, which Green provides. He makes uncommonly good use of frame enlargements and stills and provides a thoughtful index and a thorough bibliography. For serious undergraduate students and scholars.”
— T. Cripps, formerly, Morgan State University , 2001mar CHOICE.
“" . . . highly recommended for all film and black studies collections as the only major press monograph to treat this sorely neglected pioneer." —Library Journal
Oscar Micheaux's reputation as the first great African American film entrepreneur is longstanding and secure. This book assesses the less-recognized but equally distinguished artistic quality of his cinema. Despite severe material restrictions, Micheaux found ingenious ways to strike, repeatedly, "a straight lick with a crooked stick."
Oscar Micheaux was born into a rural, working-class, African American family in 1884. He was not formally educated beyond the most modest and basic public schooling; he was subjected all his life to race and class prejudice; and yet he created an impressive legacy in one of the most sophisticated, expensive, and fragile cultural endeavors of the twentieth century—-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.”
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Table of Contents
1. Micheaux v. Griffith
2. Micheaux's Class Position
3. Twoness and Micheaux's Style
4. Negative Images
5. The Middle Path
6. Middle?Class Cinema
7. White Financing
8. Stereotype and Caricature
9. Revising Caricature
10. Interrogating Caricature as Entertainment
11. Interrogating False Uplift
12. Passing and Film Style
13. Racial Loyalty
14. Micheaux and Cinema Today
Appendix One: On Class and the Classical
Appendix Two: Filmography
Appendix Three: Selections from the Black Press
Appendix Four: Bibliography