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Oscar Micheaux is the most prolific African American filmmaker---and perhaps independent filmmaker---in the history of American cinema. He wrote, produced, and directed nearly 40 features between 1919 and 1948, although few of them have survived. Most of his movies, like those of other early vis mere African American filmmakers, were independently made "race films," which featured African American actors in major roles, unlike the all-white-produced studio films of the time, which employed white actors in blackface, as in D. W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation." The racism of this film, in particular, prompted the formation of many all-black companies, including the Lincoln Film Company of Nebraska, which first sparked Micheaux's interest in the cinema. Micheaux worked shining shoes, doing farm labor, and as a porter until 1904, when he purchased a homestead in South Dakota. By 1913, he owned 500 acres and had published the first of 10 semiautobiographical novels, "The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer" (1913), which he sold successfully door-to-door. In 1918, the Lincoln Film Company approached him about filming "The Homesteader" (1917). When the company refused to produce the film on the scale he wanted, Micheaux decided to do it himself. He founded his own production company and shot the movie in an abandoned studio in Chicago, where it opened in 1919, inaugurating a decade of successful filmmaking for Micheaux. Much of this success can be credited to the promotional strategies he developed while selling his novels. Micheaux toured theaters in African American neighborhoods, soliciting advances from owners and securing screening dates, circumventing the cash flow and distribution problems that other African American companies encountered. He employed relatively cheap, nonprofessional actors and billed actors as black counterparts to white stars. Micheaux was virtually the only African American filmmaker to survive the 1930's and the Depression, the skyrocketing of production costs with the advent of sound, and the entry of Hollywood into the "race" market with all-black musicals produced, directed, and written by whites. Micheaux's films have been controversial from the beginning. Because his budgets were always minimal, the movies have poor production values: poor acting, cheap sets, poor lighting, and amateurish editing, with frequent violations of continuity---coherent spatial and temporal relations from shot to shot. Some film theorists have come to see these "flaws" as virtues, the elements of a perhaps self-conscious aesthetic critical of the Hollywood paradigm. They argue that classic realism and continuity may be complicit with oppressive ideologies in a way that more stylized genres like melodrama are not. Such forms can provoke thought by distancing the viewer from the characters and actions instead of soliciting identification and overinvolvement, as realism does; "poor" production values, like avant-garde techniques, can also have this effect. At least as controversial as his aesthetics is Micheaux's version of "racial uplift." His audiences were frequently ambivalent about the bourgeois ideology of the self-made man that Micheaux seemed to represent in his films, in which only light-skinned blacks succeeded, often by passing as whites. His characters seemed to live in a separate but equal world, as if black poverty and white racism did not exist. Micheaux argued that his films represented a range of images of African American life, rather than reproducing white stereotypes or limiting black actors to roles as servants. In 1948, after a 10-year absence from the industry, Micheaux staged a disastrous comeback with "The Betrayal," which was extensively and negatively reviewed in both the black and white press. Its failure ended his career. He died three years later while on a promotional tour for one of his books. (Bowker Author Biography) vis mindre
Image credit: Oscar Micheaux. Frontispiece from The conquest; the story of a negro pioneer (1913)

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A black night watchman at a chemical factory finds the body of a murdered white woman. After he reports it, he finds himself accused of the murder. (fonte Imdb)
 
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MemorialeSardoShoah | Jan 25, 2024 |

This was one of my favorites of 1915. It was different from all the others in several ways, the most obvious and notable one being that it was written by an African-American author. So as I opened it up I was really rooting for it to be good. I was a little perturbed by the dust jacket copy, which was a perplexing diatribe describing how the author had been cheated out of his homestead by his ex-wife and ex-father-in-law, very similar to the kind of off-the-wall, off-topic back cover copy you might get on some contemporary self-published books. This contretemps with the homestead involved a forgery, so from the title it looked like this would be the plot of the book. But it became clear that the homestead-marriage-forgery had all been covered in Micheaux’s previous novel The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer. It also became clear that although the hero of The Forged Note has a different name from the hero of The Conquest, this is basically a sequel, and very closely based on Oscar Micheaux’s real life. So, for example, the hero of The Forged Note is an author whose ex-wife and her father conspired against him, and he is now engaged in selling his first novel. Confusing? Yes! Meta and interesting? Yes!

Micheaux has a very engaging style and describes things in a witty way. The main character, Sydney Wyeth, travels to different cities to sell his novel to the black community. He does very well selling it door-to-door to domestic workers and other people with humble jobs, but it angers him that the intellectual leaders like teachers rarely buy his book. He thinks they’re a bunch of hypocrites, and even worse are the pastors, who are depicted as a bunch of ignorant power-hungry men who only seek to aggrandize themselves. (Although there’s also one good pastor character to act as a foil.) Even though Sydney is very clean-living, he finds petty criminals who get drunk and gamble away all their money amusing and good company. These characters, who would be the villains or jokes of other books, are three-dimensional, realistic, charming people.

Because Sydney is so handsome, a number of women are interested in him, but he keeps thinking of a woman he knew that he had to give up because of a shocking secret he learned about her. Meanwhile, far away, too-sweet-for-this-world Mildred can’t stop thinking about Sydney, so she sets out to sell his book as well.

Sydney is a close observer of human nature, and he sees a lot of interesting things. Like so many of these old books, the things that are most fascinating to a modern reader are too ordinary for the author to even make note of. And there were a couple of places where I could not understand what was going on. Unsurprisingly Micheaux paints a grim picture of Jim Crow cities. Black people aren’t allowed to use the library, playgrounds, or community centers so there’s literally nothing for kids to do. Lynchings are mentioned casually, and the police arrest black people for being out on the street at night. This happens to Sydney, and when he goes to his court date, he is thrown back in jail for being articulate and insufficiently cringing. The lesson this character takes from this is that he should never show up at his court date and just say goodbye to his bond money. A lot of this stuff is unpleasantly relevant to today.

Sydney (and Micheaux) have no interest in white racism or why it exists or whether it might be overthrown; it’s just a force of nature that’s part of the landscape. One of the other characters, a newspaper editor who like Sydney seems to be a mouthpiece for Micheaux’s views, says that white people will always hate black people and that’s just the way it is. Instead, Sydney/Micheaux was hung up on the idea, which seems completely bonkers to a modern reader ie me, that the Black people weren’t working hard enough. For example, in one of the cities (I forget which one because they all had pseudonyms) there was a movement to open either a library or a YMCA for African-American people. A Jewish donor promised a sum of money but only if it were matched by an equal sum. The churches were apathetic and didn’t raise nearly enough money. Sydney is enraged by this and writes an editorial in the paper talking about how lazy and no-good the black people of this city are. He leaves town immediately because he knows everyone will be mad, and I don’t blame them. Talk about kicking people when they’re down! At this point I really lost patience with Sydney. I think he’s an Enneagram Type 1 so he has a lot of great qualities but he also has a stick up his butt and he thinks he’s always right and that everyone should be like him.

But it’s really interesting to read what is basically a civil rights story that’s actually from the time period. I feel like when I read these things framed as historical narratives, it doesn’t show the in-fighting and batshit craziness and sense of hopelessness that I get from this novel, and I know those are all characteristics of present-day activism.

As far as the library/YMCA goes, Mildred saves the day by donating the missing amount of money, which was something like $10,000 that she made selling books. But various characters express doubt whether the library/YMCA will even make any difference or if the community will even appreciate it. Oy!
By the way, everyone and everything in The Forged Note has a pseudonym. W.E.B. DuBois is called Derwin, and The Crisis is called The Climax. I forget what Booker T. Washington is called; I should have taken notes. I think Atlanta is called Attalia. Leo Frank is called “The Jew.” :( (That whole part was depressing.)

At last, Sydney and Mildred get together, and we find out what the forged note of the title was. If I’m remembering right, Mildred’s father engaged in a forgery and got into terrible debt, which Mildred got the family out of by selling herself to a wicked man and losing her virtue. Luckily Sydney understands her true worth.

Something one of the Micheaux mouthpieces says (maybe the editor again) is that there are no black novels with a romance between two black characters, because no one can take seriously that there would be two such people of fine character and that their love would be worth writing about. Micheaux clearly set out to right a wrong, or “write” a wrong, and I think he succeeded because it is a grand romance in the melodramatic style of the time. He really was a trailblazer as well as a great writer, and I think this book was an epic accomplishment, especially when the plot makes it clear how hard it was to sell a book of this kind. This novel made me think more than any of the other books of 1915 (even if what I was thinking was sometimes, “This is completely whacko!”) Also just about everything in this novel is relevant in some way to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks conversation currently happening about the publishing industrial complex. Actually, I would make make the argument that not much has changed since 1915 in this area, except that today there is a different set of stereotypical stock characters, and it’s depressing. I don’t know how well known Micheaux was at the time but I think today he is a complete unknown; I never would have heard of him if it weren’t for this project. If Micheaux is famous at all, it’s as a film maker, but I think he deserves a big reputation as a novelist.
… (mere)
 
Markeret
jollyavis | Dec 14, 2021 |
Basando le opere sul processo di Leo Frank del 1913 per l'omicidio di Mary Phagan, Micheaux usò il genere poliziesco per introdurre voci diverse e resoconti contrastanti da parte dei suoi personaggi.
 
Markeret
MemorialSardoShoahDL | 1 anden anmeldelse | Oct 13, 2019 |
It seems that my spouse and I have a video collection of 100 "classic" mysteries. There's some hyperbole in there, not all are classic. But they're all good-old black and white films from the 30s and 40s (some 50s). One we watched recently was Ten Minutes to Live, which came out in 1932, and featured an all African American cast. It turns out to have been written, directed, and produced by an African American, Oscar Micheaux. The movie was a bit difficult to follow in parts, perhaps due to the poor quality of the digitization and sound. So, I tried to look up the story on which it was based to get a better handle on the plot.

I didn't find the story, but I did find out that Oscar Micheaux started out his adult life homesteading on the prairies, moved on to writing novels, from there to film, and finally back to novels in his later years. Well, I like stories of life on the prairies some century or so ago. After all, that was the life my grandmother experienced as a young girl, first in South Dakota and later in Kansas. Anyway, I found The Homesteader: a Novel on Gutenberg and read it forthwith. The book would also fit in with my off-and-on-again forays into trying to understand race relations. The protagonist is, after all, an African American, or as he had it in the book itself, of Ethiopian extraction.

I adored this book. It's an old fashioned romance/melodrama, but actually quite well done, a compelling read. Some of the writing is rather poetic and beautiful. Occasionally a phrase or word choice comes up which seems awkward to me, but then I think Micheaux was mostly self taught. Plus, I'm not a writer by any means, so how can I be so caddish as to criticize the writing of someone who made his living writing?

Whatever, overall the plot line is gripping. It's been quite some time since I found a book so compelling that I was hard pressed to put it down for more mundane domestic duties like child care, dog walking, and cooking. Probably one reason the book was so interesting was that it was semi-autobiographical. Thus Micheaux was writing from experience, which in turn, gives a better sense of reality to the action than one gets from made-up books.
… (mere)
 
Markeret
lgpiper | 2 andre anmeldelser | Jun 21, 2019 |

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