Childhood & Early Life
Oscar Micheaux was born on January 2, 1884, in Metropolis, Illinois, the United States, to Calvin and Belle Michaux. He had twelve siblings.
He alongside his siblings and parents moved to the city where he studied at a well-established school for many years. He returned to his family farm after his family ran out of money. Micheaux eventually took a marketing job in the city.
After the age of 17, he did many different jobs and also started his own shoeshine stand business. He then moved to South Dakota where he served as a homesteader.
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Oscar Micheaux wrote seven novels. His first book was ‘The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Homesteader’ that was published in 1913. The book was largely autobiographical and depicted his early life and marriage to a great extent.
In 1915, he published his novel 'The Forged Note'. This was followed by ‘The Homesteader’ that was later adapted into a feature flick under the same name.
From 1941 to 1947, the author published four novels, namely ‘The Wind from Nowhere’, ‘The Case of Mrs. Wingate’, ‘The Story of Dorothy Stanfield’ and ‘Masquerade, a Historical Novel’.
Oscar Micheaux’s first film was ‘The Homesteader’. Inspired by his eponymous novel, the film was released in 1919. It starred Charles D. Lucas, Evelyn Preer, Iris Hall, and Inez Smith.
His second film was ‘Within Our Gates’ that he produced independently after World War I. The film revolved around a mixed-race school teacher who is almost raped by her landlord’s brother who turns out to be her biological father.
During this time, Oscar Micheaux also produced ‘The Brute’ and ‘The Symbol of the Unconquered,’ both of which released in 1920.
This was followed by 'The Gunsaulus Mystery', a silent race film based on the story of Leo Frank, a factory superintendent who kills a teen named Mary Phagan in 1913.
During 1922, Oscar Micheaux made four films, namely ‘The Dungeon’, ‘The Hypocrite’, ‘Uncle Jasper's Will’, and ‘The Virgin of the Seminole’.
He later produced ‘Birthright’ that starred J. Homer Tutt, Salem Tutt Whitney, W. B. F. Crowell, and Lawrence Chenault. He also made ‘A Son of Satan’ that followed the misadventures of a man who decides to spend a night in a haunted home.
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Then in 1925, he came up with ‘Marcus Garland’, a biographical film about the black nationalist Marcus Garvey.
During 1926 and 1927, the producer made ‘The Conjure Woman’ and ‘The House behind the Cedars’, the latter of which sparked controversy due to its mixed-race theme. He ended the decade with the movies 'When Men Betray' and 'The Wages of Sin'.
During the early 1930s, Micheaux produced ‘A Daughter of the Congo’, a story of a mixed-race girl who was stolen after birth and raised by a hostile tribe.
In 1932, he made 'Veiled Aristocrats', a flick that dealt with mixed-race African Americans’ theme of "passing" to avoid racial discrimination. That year, he also released ‘The Girl from Chicago’ that concerned a federal agent who falls head over heels in love with a woman while on assignment.
This was followed by ‘Ten Minutes to Kill’ and ‘Phantom of Kenwood’ which were not highly successful.
In 1934, Oscar Micheaux produced ‘Harlem after Midnight’, a black-and-white silent film that focused on gangsters and kidnappings that happened on the streets of Harlem.
In 1937, he came up with another gangster film titled ‘Underworld’. Starring Sol Johnson, Bee Freeman, and Oscar Polk, the flick focused on a recent black graduate who enters the criminal underworld.
He next produced ‘God's Step Children’. The film is about a widow who begs a young black woman to look after her child whom she cannot afford to feed.
His projects in 1939 included ‘Lying Lips’ and ‘Birthright’. While ‘Lying Lips’ featured Robert Earl Jones and Edna Mae Harris, the latter film starred Carman Newsome as a black Harvard graduate who faces racism.
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His last films were ‘The Notorious Elinor Lee’ and ‘The Betrayal’ which were released in 1940 and 1948, respectively.
Death & Legacy
Oscar Micheaux died on March 25, 1951, in Charlotte, North Carolina, the United States. He was 67. Following his death, the Oscar Micheaux Award was established. Also, the Producers Guild of America launched an annual award to honor him.
Gregory, South Dakota, celebrates the Oscar Micheaux Film Festival annually.
Duke University’s the Oscar Micheaux Society honors his work from time to time.
In 2002, noted African-American philosopher Molefi Kete Asante listed Oscar Micheaux in his ‘100 Greatest African Americans’ list.
In June 2010, a 44-cent commemorative stamp was issued in the memory of Oscar Micheaux by the US Postal Service.
In 2014, Block Starz Music Television released a documentary film titled ‘The Czar of Black Hollywood’. This film chronicled the personal life and career of the legendary filmmaker.