Movie pioneer Oscar Micheaux produced the first African-American
feature film in 1919. Entitled The Homesteader and based
on Micheaux's novel of the same name, it told the star-crossed story
of a black settler who falls in love with a white woman on the South
Over the next three decades, Micheaux wrote, produced, and directed
more than 40 silent features and talkies. Winning the most acclaim
were Body and Soul, Harlem after Midnight, and Within
Micheaux's films blended entertainment with biting social commentary.
Targeting black audiences, they contradicted the negative stereotypes
of African Americans that filled mainstream motion pictures. Though
Micheaux's movies were screened far and wide, some were censored for
their provocative take on race relations.
Determination was the quality that defined Micheaux the filmmaker.
He produced most of his films on a shoestring budget, the production
funds often coming from his own pocket. Although Micheaux was forced
to declare bankruptcy in 1928, that was but a temporary distraction;
he continued to find new sources of money to finance his films.
Few experts would describe Micheaux's films as technically adept—but
then, few directors have replicated his feat of shooting most movies
in four to eight short weeks. To stay on time and under budget, Micheaux
relied heavily on long, continuous shots that required actors such
as Evelyn Preer and Paul Robeson to improvise.
Robesonmade his film debut in Micheaux's Body
and Soul (1925).