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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Renee

Oscar Micheaux | First Black Indie Filmmaker

An author, filmmaker, and businessman, Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) dedicated his life to producing and distributing films that elevated Black people, providing a counternarrative to rebut the negative stereotypes ubiquitous in Hollywood at the time. Many historians consider Oscar the United States' first Black indie filmmaker.

Oscar was born into a family of Illinois farmers in January 1951. During his youth, he worked as a farmhand. Oscar left home in his teens, as was common in the era, to find work at a car manufacturing plant.

Discontented with this work and eager to return to his agrarian roots, Oscar moved to South Dakota with a plan to homestead. This decision was driven by his belief that Black men would have more opportunities in the West.

Shortly after he arrived in South Dakota, Oscar purchased a homestead, which he later lost. His experience in South Dakota inspired him to write his first book, The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer. Oscar dedicated himself to distributing his book, selling it door to door.

Five years later, Oscar began translating his book into a movie, which would be called, "The Homesteader." He produced this silent movie independently and played an active role in distributing it to theaters.

After the release of his first film, Oscar dedicated himself fully to this medium, producing many other pictures, including "Within Our Gates," a response to the racism in "Birth of a Nation."

During the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Oscar moved to the city to continue filmmaking. While working in Harlem, he worked with many talented Black actors, including Robert Earl Jones, who would later find prominence.

Oscar's film company went bankrupt in 1928; however, by this time, he had established a name for himself and was able to secure financial support from two white theater owners to continue producing films.

By the end of his life, Oscar left behind a library of works: 43 movies, 27 silent films, and 16 sound features.



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