About The African American Early Filmmaking

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The first African American images to appear on the movie screen were Black soldiers leaving for the Spanish-American War in 1898.

The next films to be produced portrayed Blacks as the white minstrel shows did. When a film had a Black character, the role was usually given to a white actor who portrayed the African American in blackface. Blacks appearing in movies had to wear blackface, too. The Black characters were stereotypical: lazy, slow-witted, dumb and cowardly.

In 1915 D. W. Griffiths film The Birth of a Nation premiered. The movie was inspired by Thomas Dixon’s anti-Black novel, The Clansman. The Ku Klux Klan and slavery were glorified in the movie. The second half of the film dealing with Reconstruction has been characterized as ridiculous. Blacks were the villains in the film.

The response to Griffith’s film was The Birth of a Race in 1918. The movie was produced by a group of independent filmmakers and backers including Booker T. Washington, Universal Pictures and Julius Rosenwald of Sears, Roebuck. The screenplay was written by John Noble and Rudoph de Cordoba and directed by John Noble. The movie received bad reviews.

About The African American Early Filmmaking

The release of the movie inspired George P. Johnson and his brother Noble to found the Lincoln Motion Picture Company. The company attempted to purchase the movie rights to The Homesteader, a novel by Oscar Micheaux. Micheaux insisted on directing the movie and the deal fell through. Micheaux formed the Oscar Micheaux Corporation in New York and made the film. Micheaux made over 30 movies between 1919 and 1948.

Micheaux’s films did not win critical praise but they were popular with African American audiences and a small number of whites. The characters in his movies were middle- and upper-class Blacks. Some Black groups criticized him for his portrayal of African American life.

It is widely acknowledged that Oscar Michaeux was an important pioneer in Black filmmaking.