Oscar Micheaux, author and pioneering black filmmaker who owned his own film company, produced and directed more than 30 films. He was determined to "present the truth...to view the colored heart from close range" and to dispel stereotypical images of blacks in Hollywood films.
Micheaux, one of 13 children, left his Cairo, Ill., home at 17 and worked a number of jobs, including shoeshine boy, laborer and Pullman Porter. In 1904, 20-year-old Micheaux used his savings to purchase a homestead in South Dakota, and he became a successful farmer.
He later embarked on a writing career and established the Western Book Supply Company to publish his novels. His first, The Conquest: Story of a Negro Pioneer Homesteader, was published in 1913. Micheaux, a charismatic businessman, subsequently wrote and published nine other novels and arranged successful book promotional tours to launch each one.
Fascinated with films, Micheaux produced The Homesteader, the first independent black production, on a budget of $15,000 in 1918. Other films followed, including Ten Minutes to Live, Deceit, and the 1924 film, Body and Soul, featuring Paul Robeson in his first acting role.
His films with all-black casts ranged from silents to short and full-length features with sound. Blacks and whites viewed his widely distributed films in both the North and South.
Micheaux hired actors from the Lafayette Players, an all-black acting company in New York. Actors who had recurring roles in his films included Lorenzo Tucker, the "Black Valentino," and Micheaux's wife, Alice B. Russell.
A posthumous award established in 1973 in Micheaux's name by the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame is still awarded to blacks who make outstanding contributions to films.
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