Oscar Micheaux and Black Pre-War Cinema at Walter Reade Theater


Homesteader-cum-author Oscar Micheaux (1884–1951) was one of the earliest and most prolific African-American auteurs, but far more momentous were both the dignified, stereotype-refuting doctrine of his oeuvre and the frustrating truth that many of his race films are lost and barely remembered today. Lincoln Center’s “Faded Glory” retrospective impressively wrangles 35 rediscoveries and restorations from this revolutionary and his neglected contemporaries, including 1920’s Within Our Gates—Micheaux’s earliest surviving film, an anti-KKK corrective to The Birth of a Nation. That, among other silent greats, will be presented with a live piano accompaniment, and his 1925 masterpiece, Body and Soul (featuring Paul Robeson’s screen debut in dual roles), will benefit from a bass singer. Also of note are a new 35mm print of Spencer Williams’s folksy morality play The Blood of Jesus (perhaps the best in the series) and King Vidor’s 1929 sharecropper musical Hallelujah!, the first major studio release with both an all African-American cast and a progressive honesty about the black experience (take that, D.W. Griffith!). Perhaps the uncovering of such pioneering groundwork will be just the thing to shake up our superfluity of buppie movies, gangsta nonsense, and Tyler Perry’s monopoly on dramedies for the devout.