In This Article Oscar Micheaux

  • Introduction
  • Filmographies
  • Bibliographies
  • Anthologies
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Micheaux’s Novels
  • Scholarship of Micheaux’s Novels
  • Reviews
  • Other Resources

Cinema and Media Studies Oscar Micheaux
by
J. Ronald Green
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0049

Introduction

Oscar Micheaux is the most prolific African American filmmaker in history, producing, between 1919 and 1948, about forty feature films plus seven long novels, all of them addressing black issues and black audiences. For decades he stood relatively unexamined as a figure admired for his relative business success but denigrated for his amateurish artistry, which was understood to derive from his lack of adequate financing and his informal self-education in filmmaking. Since 1969, when Thomas Cripps in Negro Digest reintroduced Micheaux as “by far the most famous, and best, of the black silent filmmakers,” and 1970, when Pearl Bowser showed Micheaux’s films at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan, a slow groundswell of scholarly attention has produced a minor industry in Micheaux criticism, as this bibliography indicates. Close observation by critics and scholars has revealed a major artistic talent, very different in many ways from any other auteur in the film canon and very different from what might have been predicted from a racially divided culture. Micheaux had much on his mind, including racism, class advancement, individual initiative, community solidarity, the black bourgeoisie, black poverty, skin-color fetish, interracial marriage, cultural whiteness, Hollywood cinema, black cinema, black literature and theater, gender relations, women’s autonomy, white philanthropy, capitalism, fascism, Jews, anti-Semitism, lynching, tenant peonage, Klan terrorism, censorship, D. W. Griffith, passing for white, the migrations to the North, the western frontier, black music, the New Negro, and American empire and patriotism. He was a supporter of both Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois, two leaders often set against each other; Micheaux found both necessary. All of these burning issues and more he packed into a unique form of cinema that often referred to known genres—such as melodrama, musicals, detective procedurals, and courtroom dramas—but at the same time commented on, revised, and adapted, rather than adopted, those forms. Micheaux found a way to work in a uniquely independent fashion most of his life, creating a truly middle-class-produced, truly African American, truly individual cinema out of his own vision, beholden to no masters. Thus, he serves as an important example of how a body of work significantly alternative to mainstream forms can be propagated. That this example remains as relevant today as it was in his time is indicated by the volume and quality of works listed in this bibliography.

Filmographies

There have been a number of filmographies over several decades, all of them unreliable until relatively recently because of the continuing, and probably permanent, lack of a central record of Micheaux’s businesses. The two entries here form a workable, annotated list of the current knowledge of the films Micheaux made. Musser, et al. 2001 is the best for the silent films, and McGilligan 2007 is good for both silent and sound.

  • McGilligan, Patrick. Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Great Black Filmmaker. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

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    The filmography at pp. 352–366 covers the silent and sound films. Includes cast information and a small sample of press coverage or critical commentary.

  • Musser, Charles, Corey K. Creekmur, Pearl Bowser, J. Ronald Green, Charlene Regester, and Louise Spence. “An Oscar Micheaux Filmography: From the Silents through His Transition to Sound, 1919–1931.” In Oscar Micheaux and His Circle: African-American Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era. Edited by Pearl Bowser, Charles Musser, and Jane Gaines, 228–277. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    Hands-down the best, most thorough, and most careful filmography of Micheaux’s silent films. Annotations include a wealth of detailed information, arranged in categories such as length, cast, production dates, locations, source for viewing, description, archival access, history of screenings, samples of press coverage, and special notes.

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