With a Crooked Stick--The Films of Oscar Micheaux

With a Crooked Stick--The Films of Oscar Micheaux

J. Ronald Green
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 03/18/2004
Format: Paperback 98 b&w photos, 1 bibliog., 1 index
ISBN: 978-0-253-21715-8
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Choice Outstanding Academic Title (2005)

With a "crooked stick," filmmaker Oscar Micheaux (1884–1951) sought to hit a "straight lick" by stressing the strategic importance of class mobility, or "uplift," for African Americans. A theme in all of his more than 40 feature-length, black-produced, black-directed, black-cast, and black-audience films, uplift would allow for the better things in life: fast cars and fancy clothes, freedom of belief, financial security, and an unencumbered intellectual life. Although racism was an impediment to uplift for Micheaux and other African Americans, race as a category was of a secondary order for him in the larger game of class. In With a Crooked Stick, J. Ronald Green pursues this seeming contradiction in a detailed analysis of each of Micheaux’s 15 surviving films. He presents critical commentary on each film’s plot and action and its contribution to the overall theme of uplift. Readers will also find this an invaluable guide to the preoccupations and features of Micheaux’s remarkable career and the insight it provides into the African American experience of the 1920s and 30s.

Author Bio

J. Ronald Green is Professor of Film Studies in the Department of History of Art at Ohio State University. He is author of Straight Lick: The Cinema of Oscar Micheaux (IUP, 2000).


“A comprehensive guide to the surviving films of a remarkable African American filmmaker. Micheaux (1884-1951) believed that although racism was an impediment to uplift, or upward class mobility for blacks, race was secondary to class in importance to him. Green pursues this seeming contradiction in a detailed analysis of Michaeux's 15 surviving films. "[A] learned, passionate, and persuasive study of a fascinating artist." — Choice ”

“[T]his exhaustively researched and detailed analysis is an excellent complement to 'Straight Lick' and should serve also as a compliment to J. Ronald Green’s engagement with Micheaux’s work. The individual analyses of each film move the critical literature forward and will serve as a fruitful resource indeed for both researchers and teachers. Green’s work as a whole not only adds positively to the Micheaux mini-industry but, in its depth and sophistication, plays an important foundational role in establishing Micheaux’s credentials as an American auteur to be recognized along with the likes of D. W. Griffith, John Ford, and Orson Welles. 1.1 Winter 2009”
 — Black Camera

“ Following up on his outstanding Straight Lick: The Cinema of Oscar Micheaux (CH, Mar'01), Green focuses on 15 of the more than 40 all-black films the African American novelist-director made between 1919 and 1948. The biographical chapter sharply outlines the US racial context, Micheaux's challenges as a prototypical independent, and autobiographical elements in his films and seven novels. Between his treatment of the silents and the sound films, the author pauses to examine Hollywood's black-cast musicals, whose theme of spiritual uplift Micheaux always subordinated to class advancement. Anticipating the poststructuralists, Micheaux's brand of musical quotation .. directly serves his principal rhetorical concern: the treating of the disease of ethnic caricature. Despite a somewhat formulaic analysis of the films, Green clearly establishes Micheaux's unrelenting critique of white supremacism and black complicity, his strong and original style, and his promotion of moderation, independence, and ethical integrity for class uplift. Green argues that even the antithetical successes of Van Peebles/Burnett and Cosby/Winfrey/Singleton/Lee have not achieved an institutionalized cinema of the middle classes, a cinema worthy of Micheaux's prior accomplishment. Green appends an insightful study of African American spirituals to this learned, passionate, and persuasive study of a fascinating artist. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.October 2004”
 — M. Yacowar, University of Calgary

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Table of Contents

Chapter One: Biographical Backstory
Chapter Two: Within Our Gates (1920)
Chapter Three: Symbol of the Unconquered (1920)
Chapter Four: Body and Soul (1925)
Chapter Five: The Sound Era—Signifying with Music
Chapter Six: The Exile (1931)
Chapter Seven: The Darktown Revue (1931)
Chapter Eight: Veiled Aristocrats (1932)
Chapter Nine: Ten Minutes to Live (1932)
Chapter Ten: The Girl from Chicago (1932)
Chapter Eleven: Murder in Harlem (1935)
Chapter Twelve: Underworld (1937)
Chapter Thirteen: God's Step Children (1938)
Chapter Fourteen: Birthright (1938-39)
Chapter Fifteen: Swing! (1938)
Chapter Sixteen: Lying Lips (1939)
Chapter Seventeen: The Notorious Elinor Lee (1940)
Chapter Eighteen: Conclusion
Appendix One: Short Filmography
Appendix Two: Jubilee—African-American Spirituals
Appendix Three: Sources for Obtaining Micheaux's Films
Appendix Four: Review of Selected Websites
Bibliography of Citations