What would be a general analysis of Within Our Gates?  It should include terms of distinction, its take on law, justice, and violence, as well as history, gender/ sexuality, and religion.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One aspect of general analysis offered about Within Our Gates would be how racial identity is a critical aspect in defining modern consciousness.  Sylvia Landry has been defined through the lens of race.  As a result individuals have perpetrated brutal crimes upon her. Whether it was the lynching of her family, her attempted rape, the bi- racial element that plays a distinct role in defining her being in the world, or how she struggles to find a place between North and South, the issue of race is of vital importance in defining her identity.  Race is shown to be an element where one has to question where "gates" lie for individuals are shown to appropriate external constructions of self internally.

At the same time, Sylvia is shown to be challenged by gender relations, specifically in how she is set up by Alma so that she cannot marry Conrad, her true love.  The way in which men view women and in how women view one another are narrow and reflective of a lack of solidarity in the modern setting. Alma's facial expressions once she reads Conrad's letter to Sylvia is indicative of how women are shown to target one another as perpetrators and victims, as opposed to finding some force of unity between them.  Sylvia lives in both dynamics, finding challenge as a woman and a person of color in the process.

Micheaux's offers a very challenging and nuanced approach to race.  He depicts African- Americans, like Alma and her brother in law, as individuals who limit what he sees as the potential for African- Americans in the new nation.  At the same time, Sylvia, who Micheaux sees as the embodiment of "the New Negro," and Dr. Vivian are representative of what African- Americans can do.  They embody hope for the race that are constantly pitted against the conditions that limit them, in the form of people who do not advocate solidarity and unity in the midst of challenging notions of prejudice and discrimination.

One area in which the film is radical in its propositions is in questioning the traditional notion of law and order.  The construction of lynching from Whites as a way to deliver justice and order to "lawless" people of color is rebuked in the film:  "At a time of mounting black mobilization against lynching, Micheaux pressed his viewers to empathize with the victims of white violence. In Micheaux’s hands lynching and rape were evidence of white, not black, barbarism."  In showing Sylvia's struggle through the extended flashback, Micheaux embodies two principles regard law and justice.  The first is that Southern Whites and Northern Whites who turn a blind eye are responsible for perpetrating violence against African- Americans, and not embodiments of justice.  In stark contrast to the primitive and savage nature of African- American depiction in works like Griffith's Birth of a Nation, Micheaux delivers a stinging indictment towards White society.  It makes sense that Dr. Vivian learns of Sylvia's reality in a flashback, reflective of how she has lived with the sexual and physical barbarism of White mobs in the south.  Micheaux suggests that lynchings and the targeting of African- Americans is not justice, but rather the personification of lawlessness.  In doing so, Micheaux offers a new vantage point on power, control, and definition in the modern consciousness of African- Americans in the 1920s.  As race riots and a greater emergence towards consciousness of race and ethnicity emerged, Within Our Gates  makes a significant statement about how identity can be shaped within construction that might initially make it difficult to do so.

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