Oscar Micheaux, born in the state of Illinois, USA in 1884, was a Black American filmmaker, writer, and businessman. Micheaux used his artistic storytelling talents to fight against injustice during a time when White supremacy and anti-Black racism often resulted in lynchings, violent sexual assaults against women and men, and a legalized system of discrimination in the Southern USA called Jim Crow.
Micheaux founded the Micheaux Film and Book Company in 1918, and utilized his self-owned business to write, publish, and distribute novels and films across the United States. Due to the larger sociocultural context within which he lived, Micheaux (as many within Black communities in the USA did) was forced to utilize innovative techniques that allowed for him to succeed in a White supremacist society. Often promoting and hand-delivering his films in person to theatres across the United States, Micheaux embodied the themes of his films.
At the time that Micheaux was an active filmmaker and writer, many activists in Black communities utilized social uplift as one way to combat segregation, stereotypes, and broader White supremacist power structures. It was with these themes that Micheaux was concerned with in his films, and his everyday life. Although uplift strategies, from a twenty-first century perspective, can be viewed as problematic in many respects this by no means should detract from the efforts of those who fought racialized injustice in the USA (and many of whom paid dearly, often with their lives or those of loved ones).
Along with themes of social uplift, Micheaux’s films often drew upon the rich West African and African American traditions based around the trickster trope. As with those of social uplift, Micheaux, too, lived a life that embodied the trickster as he often would subvert White perceptions of Black Americans as unintelligent and utilize them to his advantage. For example, Micheaux’s 1924 film A Son of Satan was completely censored in Virginia. Yet Micheaux disregarded the censorship of this film (as he often did), and acted as though it was due to his ignorance and not cunning that the film had “accidentally” been shown.
As with all of the Historical Hotties featured here, Oscar Micheaux is a wonderful example of the many revolutionary, radical, and rabble-rousing people that make up our shared histories. Here’s to one fabulous trailblazing trickster + justice seeker.
Ooten, Melissa. Race, Gender, and Film Censorship in Virginia, 1922-1965. Maryland: Lexington Books, 2015.