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Oscar Micheaux

AKA Oscar Devereaux Micheaux

Born: 2-Jan-1884
Birthplace: Metropolis, IL
Died: 25-Mar-1951
Location of death: Charlotte, NC
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Great Bend Cemetery, Great Bend, KS

Gender: Male
Religion: African Methodist Episcopal
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Film/TV Producer, Film Director, Author

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Within Our Gates

The fifth of eleven children, Oscar Micheaux's grandparents and parents had been slaves. Micheaux worked in an auto factory, a coal mine, and as a porter, gradually saving enough from his meager wages to buy a small farmstead in virtually all-white South Dakota, where a drought drove him bankrupt. He wrote of his adventures in several books which he published himself, most notably The Homesteader, and in 1919, with no motion picture experience, he filmed his novel on location in South Dakota -- the first feature film made for black audiences by an all-black cast and crew. With that film's success, Micheaux became a moviemaker for the rest of his life, making at least 44 independent action films, dramas, and mysteries that were virtually unseen and unknown to white audiences but drew a steady and profitable box office at about 400 black-owned theaters in America, and in "midnight shows" for black audiences in white-owned theaters.

Micheaux's Within Our Gates depicted the stark reality of early 20th century racism in America, including a white-on-black rape scene that was censored by authorities in numerous cities. Paul Robeson made his film debut playing a drunkard minister in Micheaux's Body and Soul in 1924, but much of his performance was also snipped when the film was released. The Exile, "Mighty Modern All Talking Epic Of Negro Life", was the first black feature film with sound, and was shot in a sophisticated black night club -- a setting that audiences then and now might never otherwise have known existed. Robert Earl Jones, the father of James Earl Jones, also broke into film through Micheaux, starring in 1939's Lying Lips.

Micheaux was the first black man to regularly have his name appear before the title in films, and about 15 of his films have survived the ravages of time. As a film director and producer, his budgets were minimal and scenes were almost always limited to one take, even if lines were flubbed or delivered inaudibly. His best films are considered treasures not so much for their filmmaking technique, but because blacks of his era were almost never shown as Micheaux portrayed them -- not as caricatures, but as reasonable approximations of real people.

Late in his life, as his films drew dwindling audiences, he returned to writing with several more novels. "I'm tired of reading about the Negro in an inferior position in society," he once explained in an interview. "I want to see the Negro pictured in books just like he lives. But, if you write that way, the white book publishers won't publish your scripts ... so I formed my own book publishing firm and write my own books, and Negroes like them, too, because three of them are best sellers."

Long thought lost, Micheaux's Within Our Gates was restored by the Library of Congress in 1993 from a Spanish-intertitled print found in Mexico. In 1986, along with Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa, he was posthumously awarded a special Jubilee Award from the Directors Guild of America. The Producers Guild of America issues an annual award in his name, to filmmakers who succeed "despite difficult odds". He never worked in Hollywood, but long after his death he was given a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, adjacent to the sidewalk markers for Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge.

Father: Calvin Swan Micheaux (slave-homesteader, b. 1847, d. 1932)
Mother: Bell Willingham Micheaux (slave-homesteader, b. 1856, m. 1875, d. 1918)
Brother: Lawrence Micheaux (soldier, d. 1898 typhoid fever)
Brother: William Owen Micheaux (waiter, b. 1877, d. 1924)
Brother: Finis Micheaux (soldier, b. 1882, d. 1948)
Sister: Maude Micheaux Pritchette (school teacher, b. 1886, d. 1967)
Sister: Olive Michaux Robinson Wise (homesteader, b. 1889, d. 1957)
Sister: Ethel Michaux Wilson (b. 1890, d. 1974)
Sister: Ida Micheaux Payne (school teacher, b. 1892, d. 1957)
Sister: Veatrice M. Micheaux (b. 1892, d. 1915 murder)
Sister: Gertrude Michaux Cravens Sims (b. 1893, d. 1973)
Brother: Swan Micheaux (Micheaux Film Corporation executive, b. 1895, d. 1975)
Wife: Orlean E. McCracken (m. 21-Apr-1910, d. 1917 horse accident)
Wife: Alice Burton Russell (actress, b. 1892, m. 20-Mar-1926, d. 1984)

    High School: Great Bend High School, Great Bend, KS

    Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame
    Hollywood Walk of Fame 6721 Hollywood Blvd. (motion pictures)

    Body and Soul (9-Nov-1925)

Official Website:

Author of books:
Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer (1913)
The Forged Note: A Romance of the Darker Races (1915)
The Homesteader: A Novel (1917)
The Wind from Nowhere (1941)
The Case of Mrs. Wingate (1944)
The Story of Dorothy Stanfield: Based on a Great Insurance Swindle, and a Woman! (1946)
The Masquerade (1947)

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