Oscar Micheaux Criticism - Essay

Hugh M. Gloster (essay date 1948)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Negro Fiction to World War I," in Negro Voices in American Fiction, The University of North Carolina Press, 1948, pp. 23-100.

[In the following excerpt, Gloster briefly assesses The Conquest, The Homesteader, and The Forged Note.]

Avoiding both pride and bitterness in his treatment of interracial subject matter, Oscar Micheaux writes some-what autobiographically of the experiences of an enterprising Negro in Chicago, the South Dakota farm lands, and the urban South. His first novel, The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer (1913), based largely on the author's own life and dedicated to Booker T. Washington, relates the experiences of Oscar Devereux in Illinois and South Dakota. In the latter state Devereux, after acquiring a homestead and becoming a prosperous farmer, falls in love with a Scottish girl but evades matrimony because of the racial barrier. Later marrying Orlean McCraline, daughter of a Negro preacher of Chicago, he finally leaves her because of frequent disagreements with her father.

In The Conquest, for the first time in American Negro fiction, a leading colored character appears in the role of a pioneer; and settlement in the Northwest is proposed as an approach to the alleviation of racial tension in the South. Admitting that the black man suffers injustice in the United States, Micheaux nevertheless asserts that this "should be no reason why the American Negro should allow obvious prejudice to prevent his taking advantage of opportunities that surround him." Recommending the Northwest as an area where the Negro might work out a successful future, the author continues:

… for years I have felt constrained to deplore the negligence of the colored race in America, in not seizing the opportunity for monopolizing more of the many million acres of rich farm lands in the great Northwest, where immigrants from the old world own many acres of rich farm lands; while the millions of blacks, only a few hundred miles away, are as oblivious to it all as the heathen of Africa are to civilization.

In didactic chapters entitled "Where the Negro Fails" and "Progressives and Reactionaries" Micheaux advances opinions concerning the shortcomings and leadership of his race. He affirms that "the greatest of all the failings" of his people, both ignorant and educated, is the lack of "that great and mighty principle which characterizes Americans, called the initiative." In amplification of this idea, he says:

Colored people are possible in every way that is akin to becoming good citizens, which has been thoroughly proven and is an existing fact. Yet they seem to lack the "guts" to get into the Northwest and "do things." In seven or eight of the great agricultural states there were not enough colored farmers to fill a township of thirty-six sections.

Another predominating inconsistency is that there is that "love of luxury." They want street cars, cement walks, and electric lights to greet them when they arrive.

In an evaluation of the two conflicting schools of Negro leadership, Micheaux expresses a preference for the racial platform of Booker T. Washington:

The Progressives, led by Booker T. Washington and with industrial education as the material idea, are good, active citizens; while the other class, distinctly reactionary in every way, contend for more equal rights, privileges, and protection, which is all very logical, indeed, but they do not substantiate their demands with any concrete policies; depending largely on loud demands, and are too much given to the condemnation of the entire white race for the depredations of a few.

A further examination of Micheaux's views on the...

(The entire section is 1611 words.)

Janis Hebert (essay date 1973)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Oscar Micheaux: A Black Pioneer," in South Dakota Review, Vol. 11, No. 4, Winter, 1973-74, pp. 62-9.

[In the following essay, Hebert discusses Micheaux's novels as socio-historical artifacts that offer unique glimpses of South Dakotan life during the times in which the works were written.]

During the spring of 1905, a unique homesteader appeared in Gregory County, South Dakota who became the object of much attention and gossip, for as the homesteader himself claimed, he, Oscar Micheaux, "was the only colored man engaged in agriculture … from Megory [Gregory] to Omaha, a distance of three hundred miles." Today, attention is again being directed toward...

(The entire section is 3000 words.)

Arlene Elder (essay date 1976)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Oscar Micheaux: The Melting Pot on the Plains," in The Old Northwest: A Journal of Regional Life and Letters, Vol. 2, September, 1976, pp. 299-307.

[In the following essay, Elder examines the historical information contained in Micheaux's published works about the westward expansion of the United States.]

When the Department of the Interior opened up land on the eastern part of the Rosebud Reservation in Gregory County, South Dakota, in 1905, the most unusual homesteader to stake his claim was the young Afro-American, Oscar Micheaux, a former Pullman porter from Illinois. Micheaux's ambition and daring seem to have fascinated his German, Swedish, Irish,...

(The entire section is 3119 words.)

Henry T. Sampson (essay date 1977)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Micheaux Film Corporation; Oscar Micheaux," in Blacks in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1977, pp. 42-55.

[In the following essay, Sampson presents a historical overview of Micheaux's filmmaking career.]

The appreciation my people have shown my maiden efforts convinces me that they want racial photoplays depicting racial life, and to that task I have concentrated my mind and efforts.

—Oscar Micheaux (1920)

Undoubtedly the most successful of all black-owned independent film production companies which produced films about black people...

(The entire section is 4418 words.)

Chester J. Fontenot (essay date 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Oscar Micheaux, Black Novelist and Film Maker," in Vision and Refuge: Essays on the Literature of the Great Plains, edited by Virginia Faulkner, University of Nebraska Press, 1982, pp. 109-25.

[In the following essay, Fontenot discusses the history and major themes of Micheaux's most important novels and films.]

Oscar Micheaux, who lived from 1884 to 1951, was a black novelist and movie producer who believed that one solution to the problems that plagued black urbanites was for them to abandon the cities and to look to the Great Plains as a place where they could build an alternative society. Similarly, according to Micheaux, black southerners could homestead...

(The entire section is 5455 words.)

Donald Bogle (essay date 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE:"'B'… for Black," in Film Comment, October, 1985, pp. 31-46.

[Bogle is the author of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks (1973), a study of the representation of African Americans in movies. In the following essay, he discusses Micheaux's place in the history of African American filmmaking.]

The heroine of Oscar Micheaux's 1937 film God's Step Children is Naomi, a high-toned, light-skinned black girl who wants to be white. She frets, pouts, plots, whines, and, well, just plain acts up, turning her tiny black community topsy-turvy. Finally, Naomi does everyone a great service; she throws herself into the river and, like a...

(The entire section is 3251 words.)

Bell Hooks (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Micheaux: Celebrating Blackness," in Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 25, No. 2, Summer, 1991, pp. 351-60.

[Hooks is a major contemporary feminist and Afrocentric literary critic. In the following essay, she discusses the ways in which Micheaux's films "work to transgress boundaries, offering perspectives, 'takes, ' on black experience that can be found/seen in no other cinematic practice during his day. " Specifically, she examines the depiction of sexuality in the film Ten Minutes to Live.]

Conceiving of his work in independent filmmaking as counter-hegemonic cultural production, Oscar Micheaux worked doggedly to create screen images that would disrupt...

(The entire section is 4186 words.)

Pearl Bowser and Louise Spence (essay date 1996)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Identity and Betrayal: 'The Symbol of the Unconquered' and Oscar Micheaux's Biographical Legend," in The Birth of Whiteness: Race and the Emergence of U.S. Cinema, edited by Daniel Bernardi, Rutgers University Press, 1996, pp. 56-80.

[In the following essay, Bowser and Spence discuss the interrelationships between what is known about Micheaux's life, the ways in which he mythologized his life in his creative works, and the significance of his novels and films as documents of the African American social experience.]

The Symbol of the Unconquered, the latest and the best of the Micheaux productions, will open a six day showing at...

(The entire section is 8449 words.)

Richard Grupenhoff (essay date 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Rediscovery of Oscar Micheaux, Black Film Pioneer," in Journal of Film and Video, Vol. 40, No. 1, Winter, 1988, pp. 40-8.

[In the following essay, Grupenhoff provides a historical overview of Micheaux's life and career.]

The stars on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard are dedicated to those who have achieved a measure of fame in the entertainment industry. But one of the most recent stars honors a film director few people have ever heard of, and even fewer have seen any of his films. Unveiled in February 1987, that new star belongs to Oscar Micheaux, a rather obscure and engimatic individual who was, nevertheless, the most prolific and consistent...

(The entire section is 4201 words.)