Oscar Micheaux, Director, Producer, Writer and Film Pioneer: Happy Birthday! Born January 2nd; 1884-1951

Oscar_Micheaux

Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Micheaux, Director, Producer, Writer, Presenter and film promoter with 42 credits as Director, 38 films as Producer and 39 movies as Writer was born on January 2, 1884. Micheaux was the first African-American to make a feature-length movie (The Homesteader) which was released in 1919, 2 years before Charlie Chaplin made “The Kid” (Chaplin’s first feature).

He made forays into nearly every genre: Social-Dramas, Comedies and Westerns, traditional Dramas, Mysteries, Musicals and Gangster films. In the spring of 1933, Phantom of Kenwood was produced, followed by a spring and summer release, what made this film stand apart from other projects was found in the production time. From the point the script was finished until the last scene was in the can, took just six days;[1] a case of a man staying within the confines of his financial constraints. What business at the box-office was accomplished by the Phantom of Kenwood will most likely never be known. Since the target audiences were in black neighborhoods, advertising would have been by word of mouth, flyers and theater promotions and what adverts would have been seen in the few newspapers that catered to black citizens, I can find no trace. One of the stars was song-writer and pianist Roland C. Irving (unlisted on Internet Movie Data Base) of New York City, who promoted the movie by touring with the picture, making personal appearances at the host theaters.[2] The Phantom of Kenwood is believed to be lost.

Many today are offended by some of the stereotypical casting decisions Micheaux made in certain of his films, but, like his work, love his work, respect his content and his methods or not, none of us can doubt that he was a true film pioneer.

I rejoice that Oscar Micheaux did not give in to the restraints and restrictions which legal racism constructed, nor give up under the great pressure laid upon his shoulders financially and socially, but that he continued to give out; for that, we are all blessed, not only as devotees of film but also as lovers of the human-race.

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Directing star of stage in his film debut: Paul Robeson

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By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Film Daily, April 4, 1933

Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) July 22, 1933

[2] Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) July 22, 1933

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