Saturday, February 25
Jump Cut celebrates Black History Month with a special screening of WITHIN OUR GATES (1920) from pioneering director Oscar Micheaux.
Within Our Gates, commonly believed to be a response to D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, is a provocative, controversial melodrama that deals with crime and racism in its many forms including a graphic portrayal of lynching. Micheaux wrote, produced, and directed the film on a $15,000 budget. It is one of the first films made by black artists for black audiences featuring black actors to be shown in “white” theaters. Some cities were heavily against screening Within Our Gates and claimed it would incite violence. Initially, it was rejected by the Board of Censors in Chicago for being too inflammatory after the Chicago race riots. Thought to be lost, a single print of Within Our Gates was discovered in Spain in the 1970s. In 1993, it was restored as closely as possible to the original with its title cards translated back into English, however, some reels of material are still missing from the middle of the film. Within Our Gates is the earliest known surviving film by a black director.
At the age of 17, Oscar Micheaux took a job as a Pullman porter and saved enough money to purchase land in Gregory County, South Dakota, where he was the first black homesteader. After selling his homestead in 1911, he turned to writing, publishing articles for newspapers and penning seven novels. His novel, The Conquest (retitled The Homesteader), attracted the attention of the burgeoning Hollywood film industry, but when negotiations broke down, he decided to produce the film himself. Micheaux’s pictures depict racial injustice suffered by Black Americans, exploring themes such as job discrimination, interracial marriage, mob violence, and lynching. In 1986, he was posthumously admitted to the Director’s Guild of America, and the following year he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Micheaux produced more than 44 pictures making him the most prolific black independent filmmaker in American cinema history.