Oscar Micheaux Devereaux (January 2, 1884 – March 25, 1951) is considered the first African-American to direct a feature film and a major producer of race movies, and is sometimes addressed as “the greatest black movie maker for the first half of the twentieth century.” American author, film director, and independent producer of at least forty-four pictures. He created both silent movies and talking pictures. This blog will discuss twenty unknown facts about Oscar Michauex, revealing a lot about this great man.
20 Facts about Oscar Micheaux
1. Early life: Oscar Micheaux was born on 2nd January 1884 in Metropolis, Illinois. His tough childhood and discrimination experiences as a child will later be reflected in his job as a filmmaker. Oscar D. Micheaux grew up in Great Bend, KS, before going to Chicago as a Pullman porter.
2. He married Orlean McCracken in 1910. The death of a child, Orlean’s loneliness on the farm, and increasing financial difficulties led to a separation. Orlean’s father, who was a minister, eventually brought her back to Chicago.
3. Novelist and Filmmaker: Micheaux became a writer and film director. He authored several novels, some of which formed the basis of his movies. In 1913, he published his first book, Conquest: The Story of the Black Pioneers. He later wrote a version of his book and renamed it Motherland, his first feature film.
4. In 1819, Micheaux produced “The Homesteader,” thus making it the first ever written and published novel by an African American. Film work also began on the success of his book.
5. Independent film producer: A very independent movie maker who produced and directed his pictures. It allowed him to deal with matters that the leading studios never discussed.
6. Race Films: Oscar Micheaux was well recognized as a director of what has come to be known as “race films,” mainly starring African Americans who dealt with African-American concerns.
7. The Birth of a Nation: In reaction to the disparagement of black Americans in D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915), Micheaux sought to dispel such stereotypes through his movies.
8. In response to the popular film The Birth of a Nation, he released Within Our Gates a year after the first movie. Micheaux makes it clear from the opening credits that “Within Our Gates” will deal with a topic that contemporary Black and white filmmakers have avoided: lynching. Between 1900 and 1914, more than 1,100 African Americans were lynched in the South. As conditions changed after the war, the filmmaker demonstrated that even the North was no longer “safe.”
9. The first African-American film with sound was Esile, which was released by
Micheaux eleven years later. Not long after, he became the first black director to have a movie shown in white theaters for a white audience (Betrayal, 1948). This made Oscar Micheaux one of the most productive directors in history, as, according to records, he directed more than 44 films.
10. Oscar Michael’s Film Innovations: During the silent era, Oscar Michael changed images of African-American masculinity, challenging Hollywood stereotypes and offering a nuanced and realistic perspective. Unlike his contemporaries, Michaud rejected simplistic depictions, focusing instead on African American life’s complexities, economic problems, and social frustrations and calling for self-reflection in society.
11. African American Stars: Paul Robeson, Clarence Brooks, and other black celebrities started their careers with Micheaux films.
12. Limited Resources: Micheaux had limited budgets and used ingenuity and creativity in producing these movies.
13. Technical Innovations: Before Hollywood, he used the latest and new film technologies like sound in “The Exile”(1931).
14. Ownership of His Work: To this end, Micheaux did not license or sell his film prints at a fee, so he remained in command of his product and also earned some revenues from it.
15. Controversy: On numerous occasions, his films portrayed unpopular issues such as racism against blacks and other social injustices that provoked censorship or rejection.
16. “Body and Soul” (1925): One of his best silent films starring Paul Robeson in his first film experience.
17. “Symbol of the Unconquered” (1920): The film showed the tale of a black heroine against popular stereotypes in this typical white backdrop.
18. Racial Themes: He also continued addressing the issue of race in his other two films, “Murder in Harlem” (1935) and “God’s Step Children “(1938).
19. Honorary Oscar: In 1986, Oscar Micheaux was honored with a special Academy Award for his pioneering achievements in film-making.
20. Micheaux died of heart failure on March 25, 1951, in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is buried in his childhood home in Great Bend Cemetery in Great Bend, Kansas. His tombstone reads: “A man before his time.”
Legacy and Honors
Duke University’s Oscar Micheaux Society actively preserves and promotes Oscar Micheaux’s legacy. His accomplishments have been highly recognized, with distinctions including a plaque on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987 and the Directors Guild of America’s Golden Jubilee Special Award in 1989. The Oscar Micheaux Film Festival in Gregory, South Dakota, and the Oscar Micheaux Golden Anniversary Festival in Great Bend, Kansas, are annual events in Micheaux’s honor. The US Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his honor in 2010. The Taubman Museum of Art founded the Micheaux Society, and Micheaux’s film “Body and Soul” was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in 2019. The establishment further recognizes his significance.
Oscar Micheaux’s contributions to cinema and his unyielding commitment to portraying the African-American experience continue to inspire filmmakers and storytellers today. His life and work testify to the importance of diversity and representation in film. Resilience in the face of adversity.