Oscar Micheaux: The World’s First Black Filmmaker

As you all know, this month is Black History Month. So I thought I would take this opportunity to explore the story of Oscar Micheaux, one of the first ever black filmmakers. As a huge film lover myself, I wanted to celebrate Micheaux’s bravery and dedication to storytelling.

A man who battled against racism and hate to create the screenplays he wanted to make.

Micheaux, born to former slaves, began his working life as a shoe shiner and railway porter, but soon discovered his passion for the screen. Despite the KKK’s constant threat of lynching and Jim Crow being at an all time high in the early 1900s, Micheaux overcame this racism and began his own movie production company, producing his first silent motion picture ‘The Homesteader’ in 1919. Another film soon followed, ‘The Exile’, one of the first films directed by a black man to be shown to a white audience in cinemas.

Through the medium of film, Micheaux often challenged the racist content being showcased in cinemas. In fact D.W Griffith’s film ‘The Birth of a Nation’ which perpetuated harmful stereotypes of black people evoked so much rage within Micheaux he responded with a film of his own- ‘Within Our Gates’ in 1919. This film helped to highlight the suffering of African-Americans and created a more realistic portrayal of black people, changing the game in cinema forever.

As a filmmaker, I know there are creative barriers that can make generating new content challenging. So, during Black History Month especially, I think we should all take time to understand that Micheaux not only faced these hurdles, but also a world of prejudice which he confronted with admirable fearlessness.

Micheaux died in 1951. Over his lifetime Micheaux had made over 44 feature films, and his work still exists today. The words on his gravestone read ‘A man ahead of his time’ something which is indisputable. Micheaux most certainly is, as quoted from the Producers Guild of America, “The most prolific black- if not most prolific independent filmmaker in American cinema.”


Hannah Onan-Read

Image: Rotten Tomatoes