Oscar Micheaux was the Jackie Robinson of film, the black D. W.
Griffith: a bigger-than-life American folk hero whose important
life story is nearly forgotten today. Now, in a feat of historical
investigation and vivid storytelling, one of our greatest film
biographers takes on one of the most talented and complex figures
in the history of American entertainment.
The son of freed slaves, Micheaux grew up in Metropolis,
Illinois, then roamed America as a Pullman porter before making his
first mark as a homesteader in South Dakota. Disaster and defeat
there led him to forge a career publishing a successful series of
autobiographical novels. Ever the entrepreneur, when Hollywood
failed to bid high enough for film rights to his stories, he
answered by forming his own film production company. Going on to
produce or direct twenty-two silent and fifteen sound films in his
lifetime, Micheaux became the king of the "race cinema" industry at
a time when black-produced films had to scrounge for venues in a
In this groundbreaking new biography, award-winning film
historian Patrick McGilligan offers a vivid and fascinating
portrait of this little-known pioneer. Part visionary, part raffish
Barnum-like showman, Micheaux was both a maverick filmmaker and an
inveterate hustler who used every weapon at his disposal to break
the color barrier and thrive in a profession he helped to invent.
He made a fortune and lost it again, and launched repeated con
games that were followed by public arrests and bankruptcies. He
eagerly took credit for the work of others--including his
unsung-heroine wife. In his desperate later years, he even sunk to
plagiarizing his final novel--a discovery McGilligan reveals here
for the first time.
In this searching exploration, McGilligan tracks down long-lost
financial records, unpublished letters, and unmarked pauper's
graves, pinpointing Micheaux's birthplace, his tangled personal
life, and the circumstances of his tragic death. The result is an
epic that bridges a fascinating period in American history, and
offers lessons for anyone who would understand the role of black
America in forming the culture of our time.
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