The first Hollywood African American filmmaker, Oscar (Devereaux) Micheaux produced over thirty-four recorded films. This included silent and speaking films from the 1800’s until his death in 1951.
Spike Lee is just one of many film making African Americans who show homage and respect either directly or indirectly for the first African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. These are two black directors and writers who have deliberately stayed away from promoting negative stereotypes in movie productions. Micheaux’s productions as the movie Black Face written by Spike Lee and or even his directorial Get On The Bus show stereotypes that are invested as signifiers of the complexity of the black and human race as to opposed to buffoonery established for blacks to portray as a way of survival during and before the abolitionist movement that often still perpetrates in media productions today.
Oscar Micheaux was born on a farm January 2, 1884 to a father who was an enslaved African American named Calvin and his mother Belle Michaux who had a total of thirteen children. It was Oscar who added an “e” to his name, though it is not readily known why. His parents relocated from their home to help give Oscar and his siblings a better education. He went to a well-established school until money ran out and had to return back to the farm.
It was when he went to Chicago, Illinois to live with a brother and saw him being subservient as a waiter that his disdain for his brother’s lifestyle prompted him to rent his own place and find work in the stockyards, stockpiles and various other jobs that he either found challenging or disappointing. One area in his childhood he found satisfying was in marketing. He loved meeting people and was sufficient at communication. He worked as a Pullman and a Homesteader and it was as a Homesteader that he became inspired to write his first novels and films. It is recorded that Mr. Micheaux found the job as a Homesteader one of the most beneficial positions where he learned about human relations. Consequently, he wrote articles that he later submitted to press while living in Dallas, South Dakota because of his work experience.
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It may have proved to be more of a blessing than trial and tribulation for Micheaux when his wife left him while he was on a business trip. In the process, she emptied his bank account; an act that also involved her father selling his property. Micheaux had saved a great deal of money, but this event in his life, left him almost desolate. He needed a quick money making outlet and fortunate for him, not only was he skilled in various trades, marketing and communication, he was an educated professional man and great writer.