It was 1918 when Oscar Micheaux’s second book, The Homesteader, attracted Hollywood’s attention. The deal was done until Oscar made his final negotiating point - he wanted direct involvement with the production. The Lincoln Motion Picture Company refused Oscar’s demand, and it was the best thing that ever happened to him.
...because Oscar founded the Micheaux Film & Book Company, and in 1919, he became the first black major feature filmmaker. And a good one at that. His all-black films written for black audiences also made him the most successful black filmmaker of the first half of the 20th century, and one of the most prolific filmmakers in American cinema.
His work was so successful with black audiences because it addressed deeply polarizing & very authentic issues black Americans faced in the early 20th century. His film adaptation of “The Homesteader” revolved around an interracial relationship and the conflict between love & racial solidarity. It was met with both critical & commercial acclaim.
In 1920, he released “Within Our Gates” as a response to the 1915 racist propaganda film “Birth of a Nation,” one of the most popular movies of the time. “Within Our Gates” told the story of a black man wrongly accused of killing a white man & the tragedy that befell his family as a result. Unlike Oscar’s first film, this one was widely protested, deemed divisive and even banned from many theaters.
But Oscar refused to shy away from the truth of the black experience in early 20th century America. His movies unflinchingly confronted lynching, job discrimination, rape, mob violence, and economic exploitation, and his craft flourished. He produced over 40 feature films, and became the first black filmmaker to produce a movie with sound.
His dedication to the real, complex & well-made stories of black Americans led to another first for Oscar that was perhaps his (and our) most important - in 1948, his final film “Betrayal” became the very first black-produced movie to premiere in white theaters.