Article

Oscar Micheaux

J. Ronald Green

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0049
Oscar Micheaux

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Oscar Micheaux is the most prolific African American filmmaker in history, producing, between 1919 and 1948, about forty feature films plus seven long novels, all of them addressing black issues and black audiences. For decades he stood relatively unexamined as a figure admired for his relative business success but denigrated for his amateurish artistry, which was understood to derive from his lack of adequate financing and his informal self-education in filmmaking. Since 1969, when Thomas Cripps in Negro Digest reintroduced Micheaux as “by far the most famous, and best, of the black silent filmmakers,” and 1970, when Pearl Bowser showed Micheaux’s films at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan, a slow groundswell of scholarly attention has produced a minor industry in Micheaux criticism, as this bibliography indicates. Close observation by critics and scholars has revealed a major artistic talent, very different in many ways from any other auteur in the film canon and very different from what might have been predicted from a racially divided culture. Micheaux had much on his mind, including racism, class advancement, individual initiative, community solidarity, the black bourgeoisie, black poverty, skin-color fetish, interracial marriage, cultural whiteness, Hollywood cinema, black cinema, black literature and theater, gender relations, women’s autonomy, white philanthropy, capitalism, fascism, Jews, anti-Semitism, lynching, tenant peonage, Klan terrorism, censorship, D. W. Griffith, passing for white, the migrations to the North, the western frontier, black music, the New Negro, and American empire and patriotism. He was a supporter of both Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois, two leaders often set against each other; Micheaux found both necessary. All of these burning issues and more he packed into a unique form of cinema that often referred to known genres—such as melodrama, musicals, detective procedurals, and courtroom dramas—but at the same time commented on, revised, and adapted, rather than adopted, those forms. Micheaux found a way to work in a uniquely independent fashion most of his life, creating a truly middle-class-produced, truly African American, truly individual cinema out of his own vision, beholden to no masters. Thus, he serves as an important example of how a body of work significantly alternative to mainstream forms can be propagated. That this example remains as relevant today as it was in his time is indicated by the volume and quality of works listed in this bibliography.

Article.  8212 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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