Black Heritage Series
Issue Date: June 22, 2010
City: New York, NY
There is an air of mystery surrounding Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951). Little is known about his childhood, and there is no accurate count of how many books he wrote or movies he produced. However, there is one thing that is certain – Oscar Micheaux was the father of black cinema.
Micheaux’s movies were a radical departure from Hollywood. When D.W. Griffith portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as heroes in his film The Birth of a Nation, Micheaux responded by producing Within Our Gates – showing racial discrimination, lynching, and other white-on-black violence. He also moved away from the usual Hollywood stereotype of African Americans being servants or buffoons.
At a time when most black filmmakers were going bankrupt, Oscar Micheaux thrived. He worked tirelessly to keep his company afloat. To finance his films, Micheaux toured the country seeking advances from theater owners. To increase ticket sales, he convinced white theater owners to have special midnight showings for black audiences.
Micheaux paved the way for black filmmakers. Each year, the Producers Guild of America presents the Oscar Micheaux Award to a producer whose achievements in film have been accomplished despite difficult odds.