Within Our Gates

79 minutes 1920

Said to be the earliest extant feature directed by an African-American, this 1920 made-in-Chicago film is of more than historical interest. Though the narrative structure is somewhat choppy, director Oscar Micheaux otherwise demonstrates mastery of the silent form, using supple compositions and careful editing to amplify the characters' emotions in a manner that makes sound seem superfluous. The story, about an African-American woman trying to raise money in Boston to support a black school in the south, is sociologically fascinating, with its broad canvas of characters, from virtuous whites and blacks to white racists and a black preacher who toadies to them; most moving is the way the film argues that black people's real quest was simply to be treated as human. Lost for decades, the film was restored by the Library of Congress in 1993 after a salvageable copy turned up in Spain.

Film Credits

Director: Oscar Micheaux

Cast: Lawrence Chenault, Evelyn Preer and Charles D. Lucas

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