Oscar Micheaux


Today is the 130th anniversary of pioneering writer/filmmaker Oscar Michaeux’s birth. In recent years, he is a figure whose profile has emerged from the annuls of cinematic obscurity, and is currently enjoying a renewed academic and ‘cinephilic’ (yeah I made up a word) interest.

Way back in 2009, I had the pleasure of attending the Film Society of Lincoln Center, where I participated in a day-long discussion and retrospective of his life and work.

As one can imagine, in spite of restricted access to resources (money, distribution channels, etc.) that were afforded to his contemporaries, Micheaux was able to forge ahead on his own steam and tell the stories of his time that appealed to a post-slavery, post-Reconstruction African American audience (classified as “race” films).

In fact one of his silent features, Within Our Gates (1920), was made in response to his anger at the racism displayed in D.W. Griffith’s blockbuster Birth of a Nation.

Other films of note, that I have seen include Body and Soul (1925), starring Paul Robeson in a dual role (also marking his film debut), and The Girl From Chicago. Most of his films are available in the public domain, with many residing on YouTube.


Paul Robeson in “Body and Soul”


One posthumous honor: a commemorative postage stamp.

One posthumous honor: a commemorative postage stamp.

To find out more about Micheaux and early African American cinema in general, check out these resources:







  1. Oscar Micheaux was a pioneer indeed. The films were not necessarily of the highest quality but that is not the point but the fact he made films of note during this oppressive period for people of color, is the point! Nice homage!
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    • Indeed. I was speaking with an inspiring filmmaker recently and I told him it is important for us with critical eyes to be sure to be a little forgiving when we look at an auteur’s early/experimental work for budgetary and other restrictions.

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