A History of Screenwriting – 42 in a series – Within Our Gates – Oscar Micheaux (1920)

A History of Screenwriting – 42 in a series – Within Our Gates – Oscar Micheaux (1920)

A History of Screenwriting - 42 in a series - Within Our Gates - Oscar Micheaux (1920)


Oscar Devereaux Micheaux (US: /ˈɒskə.mɪˈʃoʊ/ (  listen); January 2, 1884 – March 25, 1951) was an African American author, film director and independent producer of more than 44 films. Although the short-lived Lincoln Motion Picture Company was the first movie company owned and controlled by black filmmakers,[1] Micheaux is regarded as the first major African-American feature filmmaker, a prominent producer of race film, and has been described as “the most successful African-American filmmaker of the first half of the 20th century”.[2] He produced both silent films and sound films when the industry changed to incorporate speaking actors.

Micheaux’s first novel The Conquest was adapted to film and re-titled The Homesteader.[5] This film, which met with critical and commercial success, was released in 1919. It revolves around a man named Jean Baptiste, called the Homesteader, who falls in love with many white women but resists marrying one out of his loyalty to his race. Baptiste sacrifices love to be a key symbol for his fellow African Americans. He looks for love among his own people and marries an African-American woman. Relations between them deteriorate. Eventually, Baptiste is not allowed to see his wife. She kills her father for keeping them apart and commits suicide. Baptiste is accused of the crime, but is ultimately cleared. An old love helps him through his troubles. After he learns that she is a mulatto and thus part African, they marry. This film deals extensively with race relationships.

Micheaux’s second silent film was Within Our Gates, produced in 1920.[5] Although sometimes considered his response to the film Birth of a Nation, Micheaux said that he created it independently as a response to the widespread social instability following World War I. Within Our Gates revolved around the main character, Sylvia Landry, a mixed-race school teacher. In a flashback, Sylvia is shown growing up as the adopted daughter of a sharecropper. When her father confronts their white landlord over money, a fight ensues. The landlord is shot by another white man, but Sylvia’s adoptive father is accused and lynched with her adoptive mother. Wikipedia

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I teach several classes for the Stephens College Low-Residency MFA in Screenwriting, including History of Screenwriting. In fact, I created the curriculum for that course from scratch and customized it to this particular MFA in that it covers ‘Screenwriting’ (not directors) and even more specifically, the class has a female-centric focus.  As part History of Screenwriting I, the first course in the four-class series, we focus on the early women screenwriters of the silent film era  who male historians have, for the most part, quietly forgotten in their books. In this series, I share with you some of the screenwriters and films that should be part of any screenwriters education. I believe that in order  to become a great screenwriter, you need to understand the deep history of screenwriting and the amazing people who created the career. — Dr. Rosanne Welch

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