Writing Himself Into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films, and His Audiences

Pearl Bowser, Author, Louise Spence, Joint Author, Louise Spence, With
Pearl Bowser, Author, Louise Spence, Joint Author, Louise Spence, With Rutgers University Press $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8135-2803-8
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Hardcover - 288 pages - 978-0-8135-2802-1
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Oscar Micheaux's name is emblazoned on a golden star on Hollywood Boulevard and on a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Director's Guild of America, as well as an award named after him from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Yet this pioneering African-American novelist, screenplay writer, producer and director was forgotten for decades after his heyday in the late 1920s and '30s, and is relatively unknown today. Born in 1884, Micheaux published his first novel at age 29, and released his first film six years later, in 1919. At the time of his death in 1951, he had not only written seven novels but had also written, produced or directed more than 40 films. Perhaps just as important, Micheaux ""developed a public persona of an aggressive and successful businessman and a controversial and confident maverick producer,"" which allowed him to transcend the enormous obstacles faced by African-American artists of his generation. Bowser (founder of African Diaspora Images) and Spence (associate professor of media studies at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut) study Micheaux's early career up to 1929, examining both the African-American and mainstream social and political contexts surrounding his work. Reacting against critiques that Micheaux was a product of a reactive, even defensive racial sensibility, the authors deftly place the artist in the context of the ""symbols, artifacts, and social realities of Black popular life and culture."" While the book's circumscribed scope may primarily attract readers who are already familiar with his work, this engaging, freshly researched look at a major American artist is an important contribution to both U.S. history and media studies. (Aug.)
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