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Micheaux, Oscar Devereaux

Micheaux, Oscar Devereaux, 1884–1951, American filmmaker and author, b. Metropolis, Ill. The son of former slaves, Micheaux first worked as a Pullman porter, then was a homesteader in South Dakota. His first book, published anonymously, was the semiautobiographical novel The Conquest (1913), which was followed by two more novels, Forged Note (1915) and The Homesteader (1917). When a movie company expressed interest in the last, he decided to write and direct the film himself. Micheaux ultimately wrote, produced, directed, and distributed more than 40 feature films on various aspects of black life in America for African-American audiences, creating nonstereotypical movies within the limits of his meager budgets. Among his silent films, many now lost, are The Homesteader (1919); Within Our Gates (1920), a film that to a certain degree was a rebuttal of D. W. Griffith's racist Birth of a Nation (1915); and Body and Soul (1925), the first film to feature Paul Robeson. He turned to talkies in 1931 with The Exile, the first sound film by a black company. In the 1940s he also wrote four additional unremarkable novels.

See biographies by P. McGilligan (2007) and J. Geltzer (2013); studies by E. J. Young, Jr. (1985), J. R. Green (2004), P. Bowser (2000), and P. Bowser et al., ed. (2001); B. L. Mack, dir., Oscar Micheaux: The Czar of Black Hollywood (documentary, 2014).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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