Oscar Micheaux, born in Metropolis Illinois in January 1884, the fifth child of former slaves. Oscar moved to Chicago at the age of 17 and worked there for five years as a Pullman Porter on the railway, before moving to South Dakota to Homestead, farm and write.
Homesteading became the subject matter for Oscar’s first novel, which he later turned into a film ‘The Homesteader’ in 1919, himself raising the proceeds to produce and direct the film. This was to be the first full-length feature produced by an African-American. Across the next three decades Oscar Micheaux continued to make films, producing more than 40 films, 7 novels and providing the screen debuts for actors including James Earl Jones Snr and international star Paul Robeson.
Not only did his films emulate Hollywood genres such as mysteries, gangster films and westerns, but they also featured non-stereotyped Black characters and regularly addressed controversial issues of the time. Oscar accomplished two significant landmarks during his time; in 1931 his film ‘The Exile’ became the first full-length sound feature by an African-American and in 1948 the film ‘Betrayal’, his last film, was the first African-American production to open in White theatres.
Oscar’s films, like those of other African-American filmmakers’ of the time, were known as ‘Race Films’ – made by Black filmmakers, with all-Black casts, and for Black audiences. These films were a response and necessity to what was then a segregated industry and a segregated society.