First Successful Black Filmmaker
Oscar Micheaux was an African American author, producer, and director. He is most famous for producing films about race. Born on a farm in Illinois in 1884, Micheaux moved to Chicago at age 17 and worked as a bootblack and then a Pullman porter. At age twenty-five, he settled in South Dakota to farm and focus on his writing
As a result of the way blacks were being treated at the time, Micheaux created his own publishing company so that he could sell his stories door-to-door. In 1919 he established the Micheaux Film and Book Company.
He wrote, directed, and produced the silent-film entitled The Homesteader, which is also based off of his novel of the same name. This film became the first full-length film produced by an African American. “Given the times, his accomplishments in publishing and film are extraordinary, including being the first African-American to produce a film to be shown in “white” movie theaters” (NAACP History: Oscar Micheaux).
Between 1919 and 1948, Micheaux produced forty-eight films; his last was The Betrayal. This film was the first all African American film to have a Broadway premiere. It portrays a successful African American in South Dakota who develops an empire, and experiences the struggles in relationships and the community between blacks and whites.
The Producers Guild of America called Micheaux the “The most prolific black – if not most prolific independent – filmmaker in American cinema.” Oscar Micheaux died at age sixty-seven in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was buried near members of his family in Great Bend Kansas. His tombstone reads: “Pioneer Black Film Maker and Author, a Man Ahead of His Time.”
This article was written with information from “African American Firsts: Famous, Little-Known and Unsung Triumphs of Blacks in America” by Joan Potter.
Alex Keaton: La Salle University Graduate. Aspiring Filmmaker from Philadelphia