Oscar Micheaux's Within Our Gates: Lynching and the Black Aesthetic in Early Cinema
Within Our Gates, the earliest surviving feature film produced and directed by an African American, was Oscar Micheaux's answer to the abject, at times frighteningly mesmerizing, racism of D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915). The story follows young black school teacher Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer). As she travels to raise money for her school she is befriended by a white doctor who fall in love with her. A flashback details Sylvia's tragic past: the blind xenophobia leading up to the lynching of her parents (William Starks and Mattie Peters) and Sylvia's near rape by a white brute (Grant Gorman), who turns out to be her own father. Even more disturbing than the graphic depictions of lynching is the final scene depicting Micheaux's firm rebuttal to Griffith and playwright Thomas Dixon's warped world view of the Reconstructive black male threatening the purity of Southern white womanhood. (Oscar Micheaux, 1920, 35mm film print courtesy of The Library of Congress, 75 minutes)
Accompaniment provided by noted Chicago pianist David Drazin. Two leading Oscar Micheaux scholars, University of Chicago professor Jacqueline Stewart and Pearl Bowser of African Diaspora Images, will lead a discussion following the screening.
Co-sponsored by the Chicago Historical Society (in conjunction with the exhibit "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America") and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture.