Oscar Micheaux and His Circle: African-American Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era

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2001 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 384 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade.

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Oscar Micheaux-the most prolific African-American filmmaker to date and a filmmaking
giant of the silent period-has finally found his rightful place in film history. Both artist and showman, Micheaux stirred controversy in his time as he confronted issues such as lynching, miscegenation, peonage and white supremacy, passing, and corruption among black clergymen. He emphasized the importance of education and the rights of citizenship (the vote, equal protection under the law) for racial uplift, to advance race progress, to awaken black consciousness, and to correct negative behavior within black communities. These films spoke to black moviegoers in ways that were completely different from Hollywood pictures.

In this important new collection, prominent scholars examine Micheaux’s surviving silent films, his fellow producers of race films who alternately challenged or emulated his methods, and the cultural activities that surrounded and sustained these achievements. The essays shed new light on the feature filmmaking of Richard Maurice (Detroit), David Starkman and the Colored Players Film Corporation (Philadelphia), and Richard Norman (Florida), as well as the stardom of Evelyn Preer, Lucia Lynn Moses, Paul Robeson, Charles Gilpin, and Lawrence Chenault. Studies of the shorter films shot in 16mm by ethnographer Zora Neale Hurston and religious reformers James and Eloyce Gist (Washington, D.C.) fill out the complex picture of an era.

Authors examine Micheaux’s films (and novels) from a range of perspectives, including his radical aesthetic strategies, his uses of stereotypes, his powerful critiques of D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and Eugene O’Neill’s race plays, his radical uses of other texts (notably the novels of Charles Chesnutt), and his work with such genres as the Western. The relationship between black film and both the stage (particularly the Lafayette Players) and the black press, issues of underdevelopment, and a genealogy of Micheaux scholarship, as well as extensive and more accurate filmographies, give a richly textured portrait of this era. The essays will fascinate the general public as well as scholars in the fields of film studies, cultural studies, and African American history. This thoroughly readable collection is a superb reference work lavishly illustrated with rare photographs.

Contributors include Pearl Bowser, Jayna Brown, Corey Creekmur, Jane Gaines, Gloria J. Gibson, J. Ronald Green, Arthur Jafa, Phyllis Klotman, Charles Musser, Charlene Regester, Louise Spence, Clyde R. Taylor, Sr. Francesca Thompson, and Michele Wallace.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This informative, interesting, and very important collection of essays is the catalog accompanying a seven-part program of American race films that will be distributed by the New York's Museum of Modern Art on 35-mm film. The films and essays have been collected and arranged by Bowser, the founder and director of African Diaspora Images, who has curated film programs at institutions such as the Whitney, the American Museum of the Moving Image, and the Brooklyn Museum; Jane Gaines (English, Duke); and Charles Musser (American and film studies, Yale). The 14 essays cover a range of topics, from overviews of black American performance and cinema, to detailed analyses of Micheaux films, to thoughtful discussions of the work and impact of other groups of African American performers and filmmakers. The essays are lively and readable, casting light on an underrepresented facet of American film history. While it is unlikely that many libraries will purchase the film series, this illustrated book will be a valuable addition to any collection, academic or public, that deals with silent film, film history, African American studies, or American cultural history. Andrea Slonosky, Long Island Univ., Brooklyn, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253339942
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 7/28/2001
  • Edition description: Annotated
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Pearl Bowser is founder and director of African Diaspora Images, a collection of historical and contemporary African-American and African films and memorabilia. Since 1970 she has curated film programs in Europe, Asia, Africa, and throughout the United States including the Whitney Museum, the American Museum of the Moving Images, the Brooklyn Museum, the Pacific Film Archives (Berkeley), and the Cleveland Museum of Art as well as a tour of black colleges. Her production credits include Mississippi Triangle (1984), Namibia Independence Now (1986), and Stories About Us (1988). She was co-director and director of research for Midnight Ramble: Oscar Micheaux and the Story of Race Movies (1994). With Louise Spence, she co-authored Writing Himself into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films, and His Audiences (2000).

Jane Gaines is Professor of Literature and English at Duke University, where she directs the Film and Video Program, which she founded in 1985. She has co-edited Fabrications: Costume and the Female Body (1990), edited Classical Hollywood Narrative Cinema: The Paradigm Wars (1992), and published Contested Culture: The Image the Voice and the Law (1991) for which she received the Katherine Singer Kovacs Award. Her recent work is in African and African-American literature and film melodrama. Her book Fire and Desire: Mixed-Race Movies in the Silent Era has been recently published by University of Chicago Press (2001).

Charles Musser is Professor of American Studies and Film Studies at Yale University, where he co-chairs the Film Studies Program. His books include The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 (1990) and Edison Motion Pictures, 1890-1900: An Annotated Filmography (1998). He produced, directed, and co-wrote the hour-long documentary film Before the Nickelodeon: The Early Cinema of Edwin S. Porter (1982). With Ed Guerrero and Mark Reid, he curated Paul Robeson film retrospectives at UCLA Film & Television Archives and the Museum of Modern Art, mounted in conjunction with the touring exhibition Paul Robeson: Artist and Citizen. In 1996, he received the Prix Jean Mitry from the Giornate del Cinema Muto for his contribution to the study of silent film.

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents


The Touring Package: Programs and Credits
Introduction: Oscar Micheaux and Race Movies of the Silent Period, Pearl Bowser, Jane Gaines, and Charles Musser

I. Overviews
1. Black Silence and the Politics of Representation, Clyde R. Taylor
2. The Notion of Treatment: Black Aesthetics and Film, based on an interview with Peter Hessli and additional contributions from Pearl Bowser, A. J. Jafa
3. From Shadows 'n Shufflin' to Spotlights and Cinema: The Lafayette Players, 1915-1932, Sr. Francesca Thompson
4. The African-American Press and Race Movies, 1909-1929, Charlene Regester

II. Oscar Micheaux
5. Oscar Micheaux's Within Our Gates: The Possibilities for Alternative Visions, Michele Wallace
6. Within Our Gates: From Race Melodrama to Opportunity Narrative, Jane Gaines
7. Oscar Micheaux's The Symbol of the Unconquered: Text and Context, Pearl Bowser and Louise Spence
8. To Redream the Dreams of White Playwrights: Reappropriation and Resistance in Oscar Micheaux's Body and Soul, Charles Musser
9. Black Patriarch on the Prairie: National Identity and Black Manhood in the Early Novels of Oscar Micheaux, Jayna Brown
10. Telling White Lies: Oscar Micheaux and Charles W. Chesnutt, Corey Creekmur

III. Micheaux's Contemporaries
11. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: The Flying Ace, the Norman Company, and the Micheaux Connection, Phyllis Klotman
12. Colored Players Film Corporation
An Alternative to Micheaux, Charles Musser
Lost, then Found: The Wedding Scene from The Scar of Shame (1929), Pearl Bowser
13. Richard D. Maurice and the Maurice Film Company, Pearl Bowser and Charles Musser
14. Cinematic Foremothers: Zora Neale Hurston and Eloyce King Patrick Gist, Gloria J. Gibson

Appendix A. The Reemergence of Oscar Micheaux: A Timeline and Bibliographic Essay, J. Ronald Green
Appendix B. An Oscar Micheaux Filmography: From the Silents through His Transition to Sound (1919—1931),
Compiled by Charles Musser, Corey Creekmur, Pearl Bowser, Charlene Regester, Ron Green, and Louise Spence
Appendix C. A Colored Players Film Corporation Filmography, Compiled by Charles Musser
Appendix D. Norman Film Manufacturing Company: Production and Theatrical Release Dates for All-Black-Cast Films, Compiled by Phyllis Klotman

Bibliography, Compiled by Kristen Barnes, Jane Gaines, Fred Neumann, and Hank Okazaki
About the Contributors

Indiana University Press

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