Oscar Micheaux

Active - 1918 - 1984  |   Born - Jan 2, 1884   |   Died - Apr 1, 1951   |   Genres - Drama, Mystery, Crime

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Biography by AllMovie

Though independent filmmaker Oscar Micheaux was an important and prolific contributor to early black American cinema, his work has been largely ignored by film historians. Part of this is due to the fact that few of the forty films he made between 1919 and 1948 have survived, but it is also due to his controversial racial messages and the technical inferiority of his films that have made him hard to integrate into standard histories. Prior to becoming a filmmaker Micheaux worked as a shoeshine boy, a farm worker, and a Pullman porter. By 1913, Micheaux was running a 500 acre South Dakota homestead and had written, published and promoted The Conquest, a semi-autobiographical novel -- he would go on to write ten more. In 1918, the Lincoln Film Company, one of the first all-black studios, offered to film one of his novels, The Homesteader (1917). But negotiations broke down and Micheaux decided to make it himself. He then went to Chicago and took over the abandoned Selig Studio; the film was released one year later. Micheaux became quite successful. By the '30s, black independent cinema was in decline due to the rise of Hollywood all-black musicals and the Depression, but Micheaux was still able to survive. Much of the poor technical qualities of his films can be attributed to lack of funding which resulted in his use of non-pro actors. Most of his films were poorly lit; scenes were shot in one take and the resulting flubs were not edited out. In 1931, he released the sound film The Exile. The film generated controversy amongst black critics and audiences for it's ambivalent, bourgeois ideologies. His 1938 film God's Step Children was especially controversial. Micheaux endeavored to imitate popular Hollywood genres and create African-American versions of major stars, but his films were not terribly successful. He attempted a comeback in 1948 with The Betrayal but it failed miserably. Three years later he died while on a promotional tour.

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