Lessons in Black History – Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Micheaux – Although he was not the first black filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux was the first black director to produce a feature-length film, and was certainly the most prolific movie maker of the era. The son of former slaves, born in Illinois in 1884, Micheaux moved to South Dakota with dreams of being a farmer. When his farm failed to produce any viable crops, he wrote his first novel, The Homesteader, which he self-published and sold door-to-door. Pioneering black filmmaker Noble Johnson’s Lincoln Motion Picture Company tried to option The Homesteader from Micheaux, but when they didn’t offer him enough money, he decided to make a movie himself. With no film experience at all, Micheaux produced a feature-length version of The Homesteader in 1919. Over the next three decades, Micheaux would make 41 more films, creating his own cottage industry of stars that included Paul Robeson (who made his film debut in Micheaux’s Body and Soul), Lorenzo Tucker (often billed as “The Black Valentino”), Alec Lovejoy, Carman Newsome and Laura Bowman. Micheaux traveled cross-country with his films in the trunk of his car, showing the movies anywhere he could screen them. He often raised the money for his next production by pre-selling the rights to various exhibitors, thereby pioneering the now common practice of pre-sales in film distribution.

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