Cover image for Writing himself into history : Oscar Micheaux, his silent films, and his audiences
Writing himself into history : Oscar Micheaux, his silent films, and his audiences
Bowser, Pearl, 1931-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxv, 288 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN1998.3.M494 B69 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PN1998.3.M494 B69 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN1998.3.M494 B69 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

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Writing Himself Into History is an eagerly anticipated analysis of the career and artistry surrounding the legendary Black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. With the exception of Spike Lee, Micheaux is the most famous--and prolific--African American film director. Between 1918 and 1948 he made more than 40 "race pictures," movies made for and about African Americans. A man of immense creativity, he also wrote seven novels.

Pearl Bowser and Louise Spence concentrate here on the first decade of Micheaux's career, when Micheaux produced and directed more than twenty silent features and built a reputation as a controversial and maverick entrepreneur. Placing his work firmly within his social and cultural milieu, they also examine Micheaeux's family and life. The authors provide a close textual analysis of his surviving films (including The Symbol of the Unconquered, Within Our Gates , and Body and Soul ), and highlight the rivalry between studios, dilemmas of assimilation versus separatism, gender issues, and class. In Search of Oscar Micheaux also analyzes Micheaux's career as a novelist in relation to his work as a filmmaker.

This is a much-awaited book that is especially timely as interest in Micheaux's work increases.

Author Notes

Pearl Bowser, founder of the African Diaspora Images collection, specializes in African and African American film. She co-directed the award-winning documentaryMidnight Ramble: Oscar Micheaux and the Story of Race Movies.Louise Spenceis an associate professor and coordinator of media studies at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut and has published extensively in scholarly journals and anthologies.Thulani Davisis a writer, author of the novelsMaker of Saintsand1959and contributor toMalcolm X: The Great Photographsand the biographical filmW.E.B. Du Bois.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Although Bowser (codirector of the documentary Midnight Ramble: Oscar Micheaux and the Story of Race Movies) and Spence (media studies, Sacred Heart Univ.) focus solely on the 20 silent films Micheaux directed between 1919 and 1929, the reader gets a stronger feel for the cultural milieu of Micheaux!s work here than in Green!s book. The authors carefully interlace their own critiques of these films with contemporary African American press responses, details on moviegoing in an era of segregated cinemas, and biographical information derived from interviews with the director!s family and others involved in early African American cinema. The plentiful production stills highlight this highly readable narrative. Both books are highly recommended for all film and black studies collections as the only major press monographs to treat this sorely neglected pioneer."Anthony J. Adam, Prairie View A&M Univ., TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

With this fascinating and thorough study of independent pioneer Oscar Micheaux, Bowser and Spence partially redress the neglect of contributions by African American filmmakers in the silent period. The authors base this cultural study on original (and impressively exhaustive) research of Micheaux as artist and businessman and of his novels and silent films, his spectators, and the "colored" theaters that exhibited his works--weaving these vibrant threads together both to chronicle the factual history of Micheaux and his works and to draw out the emerging myth of this entrepreneur. An astute filmmaker, Micheaux exploited his own life for raw material on which to spin his narrative, and the authors reveal how he creatively resisted the racist and hypocritical trends of his day by inventing moral parables for black audiences. What is most illuminating is how the authors place the cinematic contributions of Micheaux in context of the larger black community and culture. Special insights become manifest in his analysis of two key 1920 films, Within Our Gates and The Symbol of the Unconquered. Heartily recommended for all students, fans, and researchers in film studies. T. Lindvall; Regent University

Table of Contents

Thulani Davis
Forewordp. ix
Prefacep. xvii
Acknowledgmentsp. xxiii
Part 1 Oscar Micheaux
1 Writing Himself into Historyp. 3
Part 2 His Spectators
2 In Search of an Audience, Part Ip. 51
3 In Search of an Audience, Part IIp. 89
Part 3 His Texts
4 Within Whose Gates? The Symbolic and Political Complexity of Racial Discoursesp. 123
5 The Symbol of the Unconquered and the Terror of the Otherp. 156
6 Body and Soul and the Burden of Representationp. 176
Epiloguep. 209
Notesp. 223
Bibliographyp. 261
Filmographyp. 271
Indexp. 273