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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Within Our Gates & Symbol Of the Unconquered (1920) by Oscar Micheaux

Within Our Gates (1920) is a silent film by the director Oscar Micheaux that portrays the contemporary racial situation in the United States during the early twentieth century, the years of Jim Crow, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, the Great Migration of blacks to cities of the North and Midwest, and the emergence of the "New Negro". It was part of a genre called race films.

The plot features an African-American woman who goes North in an effort to raise money for a rural school in the Deep South for poor Black children. Her romance with a black doctor eventually leads to revelations about her family's past and her own mixed-race, European ancestry. The film portrays racial violence under white supremacy, and the lynching of a black man. Produced, written and directed by Oscar Micheaux in 1919 and released in 1920, it is the oldest known surviving film made by an African-American director.

Evelyn Preer as Sylvia Landry
Flo Clements as Alma Prichard
James D. Ruffin as Conrad Drebert
Jack Chenault as Larry Prichard
William Smith as Detective Philip Gentry
Charles D. Lucas as Dr. V. Vivian
S.T. Jacks as Reverend Wilson Jacobs (uncredited).

Running time: 1 hour 17 minutes

Iris Hall

The Symbol Of the Unconquered (1920)

In this silent film, a black heiress fights off the Ku Klux Klan to save her land. (1 of the 2 films Oscar Micheaux filmed as a 'response' to The Birth of A Nation)

The Symbol of the Unconquered (aka:The Wilderness Trail) is a 1920 silent "race film" drama produced, written and directed by Oscar Micheaux. It is Micheaux's fourth feature length film and along with Within Our Gates is amongst his earliest surviving works. This film was made at Fort Lee New Jersey and released by Micheaux on November 29, 1920. Extant at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Producer: Oscar Micheaux

Iris Hall - Eve Mason
Walker Thompson - Hugh Van Allen
Lawrence Chenault - Jefferson Driscoll

Running time: 58 minutes

Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Micheaux is remembered today as the first African-American filmmaker and as an outstanding entrepreneur of the early film industry. His films, some of which have been lost, include The Homesteader (1919), Within Our Gates (1920), The Symbol of the Unconquered (1920), and Body and Soul (1925), and range from mysteries to westerns, from political commentaries to musicals.

Both of his 1920 films -- Within Our Gates and The Symbol of the Unconquered -- respond directly to D.W. Griffith's groundbreaking celebration of the Ku Klux Klan, The Birth of a Nation (1915).

In answer to the several climactic scenes of attempted rape of white women by Black men around which the story of The Birth of a Nation centers, in Within Our Gates Micheaux flips the scene with a depiction of the victim as a Black woman and the perpetrator as a white man. The central section of The Symbol of the Unconquered, currently lost, hinges on the Black community's success in repelling a raid by the KKK, and much of the story serves to discredit the Klan's claims of justification for their violence against African-American communities.

While many of Micheaux's films are classified as "Race Films," filmed for an African-American audience and shown in segregated, "colored only" theaters, Micheaux's films -- especially his earlier works -- reached an audience which included whites.

His celebration of middle-class African-American experience provided hope for better times to come, and his practice of spreading blame across a racially diverse group of villanous characters (rather than directly pointing the finger at the white community as a whole) is an indication of his political sensibilities as a follower of Booker T. Washington.

2 Silent films by Oscar Micheaux 1st African American film-maker 1 DVD

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