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Oscar Micheaux’s Films: Literature Review

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Published: Wed, 11 Jul 2018

Green, J. R. (2000).  1. In Straight Lick : The Cinema of Oscar Micheaux (pp. 1-30). Bloomington, US: Indiana University Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com.libproxy.nau.edu

Film director and author Oscar Micheaux’s works are compared and contrasted to contemporary filmmaker D.W. Griffith’s film, Birth of a Nation.  Micheaux’s film, Within Our Gates, like Griffith’s film, idealizes a happy bourgeois couple, but the social intricacies and background stories of these couples are very different.  Griffith’s character Elsie Stoneman is a privileged and frail white northern woman who later embraces racism and falls in love with a Klu Klux Klan member who rescued her. Micheaux’s Sylvia is a mixed African American woman who does not come from a privileged family and is very independent.  She falls in love with Dr. Vivian, not because he rescued her, and raises money for an underprivileged black school.    Micheaux’s novel, The Forged Note: A Romance of the Darker Races, illustrates Michaeux’s philosophical moderation compared to Griffith’s steadfast Manichean way of thinking. The author notes that Griffith’s resolution to conflicts usually involved force; Micheaux’s resolutions were accomplished by education. Micheaux’s portrayal of restitution is two lovers finally joining together as soul mates.  Griffith’s restitutions are revenge and repayment.  Both Micheaux and Griffith attempted to portray the ideal bourgeois American society, but with fundamental differences between the two portrayals. Griffith wanted this idyllic icon to remain with the white supremacists and to maintain racial purity.  Micheaux wanted others to be able to access the middle-class life.  The author relates that Micheaux’s views were from the bottom looking up as underprivileged people trying to become middle class, while Griffith’s views were from the top down, relying on upper class to construct the middle class.

 Green, J. R. (2000).  8. In Straight Lick : The Cinema of Oscar Micheaux (pp. 123-136). Bloomington, US: Indiana University Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com.libproxy.nau.edu

The author discusses in detail the stereotyping and caricature of African Americans as dealt with by Oscar Micheaux in his films and particularly the characters in his productions.  Micheaux’s main focus in life was to uplift others, but stereotyping and caricatures were often roadblocks for him.  The author considers the film The Exile by Micheaux and relates the struggles of the films characters Jean, Jango, and Edith to the bigger social issues of African American stereotypes among whites.  The argument between Edith and Jango about education is compared to the contemporaneous opinion that African Americans during the period of Prohibition were often overeducated for the jobs they were performing.  The author highlights Micheaux’s concerns of the degradation of the dignity of African Americans by taking part in jobs of illegitimate business during Prohibition.  The film The Darktown Revue, the only concert film by Micheaux, provides both positive images and negative racial stereotypes which the author describes as logical arguments by Micheaux to illustrate the issue of African American twoness.  Alain Locke’s timeline of African American music closely matches Micheaux’s own musical experiences and can be used to identify Micheaux’s films from both a musical and political perspective.  The author explains the word darktown as a black community, but also demonstrates a deeper meaning, that of a sanctuary for African American minstrel entertainers escaping the ethnic caricatures of their stage performances.   These minstrel entertainers suffered a blurred line between fear of failure or criticism and fear of harm or even death.

Green, J. R. (2000).  9. In Straight Lick : The Cinema of Oscar Micheaux (pp. 137-156). Bloomington, US: Indiana University Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com.libproxy.nau.edu

Oscar Micheaux’s film The Darktown Revue is discussed from the standpoint of how Micheaux handled the many negative caricatures of African Americans and comparisons are drawn to the Fisk Jubilee Singers.  The author relates how the Fisk Jubilee Singers from the black Fisk University in Nashville toured the eastern US during the 1870’s and were a success both financially and politically.  This group of black performers is revealed as the group which paved the way for future black musical theater and also worked to uplift the caricature of Black Americans as viewed from the predominantly white public.  Comparisons are drawn to G. D. Pike’s story of the Fisk Singers and Micheaux’s film The Darktown Revue as both used bourgeois caricatures to effect change in their audiences.  The author notes how the racial climate in Micheaux’s years was even more violent than the time of the Fisk Singers nearly sixty years earlier.  Caricature in Micheaux’s time was viewed as a roadblock for African American growth.  The author explains the two acts of the Darktown Revue and the caricatures presented.  Micheaux’s use of structure in the film is paradigmatically explained as alternating between positive and negative figures, portrayed by the chorus representing middle class African Americans and the performances featuring varied racial caricatures, respectively.  The cutting gaze of Micheaux is explained as his spotlight on negative images.  Contrasts to the Fisk Singers and Micheaux are noted as the Fisk Singers primarily used only positive images.  The author defends Micheaux’s perspective on caricatures and compliments his spirit.


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