Oscar Micheaux and His Circle: African-American Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era

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Pearl Bowser, Jane Gaines, Charles Musser
Indiana University Press, Jan 1, 2001 - Performing Arts - 353 pages

Oscar Micheaux-the most prolific African-American filmmaker to date and a filmmaking
giant of the silent period-has finally found his rightful place in film history. Both artist and showman, Micheaux stirred controversy in his time as he confronted issues such as lynching, miscegenation, peonage and white supremacy, passing, and corruption among black clergymen. He emphasized the importance of education and the rights of citizenship (the vote, equal protection under the law) for racial uplift, to advance race progress, to awaken black consciousness, and to correct negative behavior within black communities. These films spoke to black moviegoers in ways that were completely different from Hollywood pictures.

In this important new collection, prominent scholars examine Micheaux’s surviving silent films, his fellow producers of race films who alternately challenged or emulated his methods, and the cultural activities that surrounded and sustained these achievements. The essays shed new light on the feature filmmaking of Richard Maurice (Detroit), David Starkman and the Colored Players Film Corporation (Philadelphia), and Richard Norman (Florida), as well as the stardom of Evelyn Preer, Lucia Lynn Moses, Paul Robeson, Charles Gilpin, and Lawrence Chenault. Studies of the shorter films shot in 16mm by ethnographer Zora Neale Hurston and religious reformers James and Eloyce Gist (Washington, D.C.) fill out the complex picture of an era.

Authors examine Micheaux’s films (and novels) from a range of perspectives, including his radical aesthetic strategies, his uses of stereotypes, his powerful critiques of D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and Eugene O’Neill’s race plays, his radical uses of other texts (notably the novels of Charles Chesnutt), and his work with such genres as the Western. The relationship between black film and both the stage (particularly the Lafayette Players) and the black press, issues of underdevelopment, and a genealogy of Micheaux scholarship, as well as extensive and more accurate filmographies, give a richly textured portrait of this era. The essays will fascinate the general public as well as scholars in the fields of film studies, cultural studies, and African American history. This thoroughly readable collection is a superb reference work lavishly illustrated with rare photographs.

Contributors include Pearl Bowser, Jayna Brown, Corey Creekmur, Jane Gaines, Gloria J. Gibson, J. Ronald Green, Arthur Jafa, Phyllis Klotman, Charles Musser, Charlene Regester, Louise Spence, Clyde R. Taylor, Sr. Francesca Thompson, and Michele Wallace.

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Oscar Micheaux and his circle: African-American filmmaking and race cinema of the silent era

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This informative, interesting, and very important collection of essays is the catalog accompanying a seven-part program of American race films that will be distributed by the New York's Museum of ... Read full review


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About the author (2001)

Pearl Bowser is founder and director of African Diaspora Images, a collection of historical and contemporary African-American and African films and memorabilia. Since 1970 she has curated film programs in Europe, Asia, Africa, and throughout the United States including the Whitney Museum, the American Museum of the Moving Images, the Brooklyn Museum, the Pacific Film Archives (Berkeley), and the Cleveland Museum of Art as well as a tour of black colleges. Her production credits include Mississippi Triangle (1984), Namibia Independence Now (1986), and Stories About Us (1988). She was co-director and director of research for Midnight Ramble: Oscar Micheaux and the Story of Race Movies (1994). With Louise Spence, she co-authored Writing Himself into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films, and His Audiences (2000).

Jane Gaines is Professor of Literature and English at Duke University, where she directs the Film and Video Program, which she founded in 1985. She has co-edited Fabrications: Costume and the Female Body (1990), edited Classical Hollywood Narrative Cinema: The Paradigm Wars (1992), and published Contested Culture: The Image the Voice and the Law (1991) for which she received the Katherine Singer Kovacs Award. Her recent work is in African and African-American literature and film melodrama. Her book Fire and Desire: Mixed-Race Movies in the Silent Era has been recently published by University of Chicago Press (2001).

Charles Musser is Professor of American Studies and Film Studies at Yale University, where he co-chairs the Film Studies Program. His books include The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 (1990) and Edison Motion Pictures, 18901900: An Annotated Filmography (1998). He produced, directed, and co-wrote the hour-long documentary film Before the Nickelodeon: The Early Cinema of Edwin S. Porter (1982). With Ed Guerrero and Mark Reid, he curated Paul Robeson film retrospectives at UCLA Film & Television Archives and the Museum of Modern Art, mounted in conjunction with the touring exhibition Paul Robeson: Artist and Citizen. In 1996, he received the Prix Jean Mitry from the Giornate del Cinema Muto for his contribution to the study of silent film.

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