Micheaux's Media Mansion: Reframing the Narrative

A series about Black cinema, where we’ve been, where we are headed, and an exploration about the question ‘What is Black Film?'
tonya pInkins, series host
Tony award-winning actress, singer, author, activist and educator.  Penkins has more than twenty years of experience and expertise in daytime television, Broadway shows, theatre, film and the arts.  

About this Series

Series Host
Oscar Micheaux
Micheaux's Filmography
Film Pioneers
Black Film List
In this limited series, we will delve into the impact of story and image on society and individuals, specifically focusing on the representation of the Global Majority in film. From the early days of cinema to present day, Black filmmakers have been at the forefront of dramatizing the experiences of Black individuals on screen. This series will explore the history of Black cinema, its evolution, and its current state, while also examining the question of 'What is Black Film?' You will gain a deeper understanding of the role of film in promoting or hindering cultural values and the significance of Black filmmakers in shaping this medium.

Oscar Micheaux 
Oscar Micheaux was the quintessential self-made man. Novelist, film-maker and relentless self-promoter, Micheaux was born on a farm near Murphysboro, Illinois. He worked briefly as a Pullman porter and then in 1904 homesteaded nearly 500 acres of land near the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Micheaux published novels in Nebraska and New York and made movies in Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California.

Micheaux left “autobiographical” records in his first three novels, The Conquest (1913), The Forged Note (1915) and The Homesteader (1917), in which his protagonists play out a young black man’s life in rural, white South Dakota. Micheaux began his career with door-to-door sales of his early writings to neighboring farmers. Encouraged by the modest success from his first novel, Micheaux gave up farming to write six other novels about this period and region.

D.W. Griffith’s powerful and vitriolically anti-black movie The Birth of a Nation ironically impressed upon Micheaux the ability of a filmmaker to tell a complex, multi-character story every bit as compelling as a novel. Oscar Micheaux soon got the opportunity to test his theory in 1918 when he was contacted by the black-owned Lincoln Film Company in Nebraska to adapt his third novel, The Homesteader, to film. Micheaux rejected the offer and instead moved to Chicago where he made his own film version of his novel. The Homesteader was the first full-length feature film written, produced and directed by an African American. It was also a commercial success when it grossed over $5,000.

Oscar Micheaux’s desire to control the production and distribution of his films was be the hallmark of his career. He persuaded the best black actors of his time to work in forty-four, mostly low-budget, films he produced between 1919 and 1948 that appealed to the rapidly growing black urban audiences of the post-World War I period. Most of Micheaux’s films were detective stories, quickly written, filmed, edited and released. His African American audiences rarely complained since they were starved to see people on the silver screen who looked like they did.

Micheaux on occasion tackled more complex subjects in his films. Within Our Gates, his fifth film, specifically attacked the racism portrayed in The Birth of a Nation. He also took on controversial subjects in the black community including interracial romance, skin color hypocrisy and corrupt clergymen. Significantly, his films in the 1920s and 1930s contrasted sharply with the Hollywood image of blacks as lazy, ignorant and sexually aggressive.

Many white critics decried Micheaux’s amateur movie-making skills, yet his audiences devoured his product, making him the most successful black writer, producer and director in the United States until his death in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1951.

Eventually Hollywood recognized both Micheaux’s genius and his crucial role in opening opportunities for African Americans in front of and behind the motion picture camera. In 1987, Oscar Micheaux was memorialized with a Hollywood Walk of Fame “Star.” Two years later, he was given posthumous awards by the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame (1989) and the Director’s Guild of America (1989). Each year Gregory, South Dakota, Micheaux’s adopted home town, stages the Oscar Micheaux Film Festival.
Tonya Pinkins is a Tony award-winning actress, singer, author, activist and educator. She portrays Susan Thompson on Madame Secretary, Ethel Peabody on Gotham on FOX TV, Miz Mimi Corcoran on Hulu's 11/22/63 and Sandra on Scandal. Recent film credits include My Days of Mercy and The Book of Henry.

Tonya's Broadway credits include: Holler If Ya Hear Me, A Time To Kill, Radio Golf, Merrily We Roll Along, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, The Wild Party and Caroline or Change (Winner - Obie, Lucile Lortel Award, LA Drama Critics Circle Award; Nominations - Olivier, NAACP Theatre Award, Tony Award, Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, Drama League), Play On (Tony, Joseph Jefferson nominations), Jelly's Last Jam (Winner - Tony Award, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Clarence Derwent). She has also been nominated for The Joseph Jefferson Citation, the Helen Hayes Award, Soap Opera Digest Award and The Onstage Award.

Tonya recently appeared in Rasheeda Speaking (Lortel and Outer Critics Circle Nominations) opposite Dianne Wiest at The New Group. Other Off-Broadway Credits include Milk Like Sugar, Hurt Village, Shakespeare in the Park: All's Well That Ends Well, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Measure for Measure.

Her book Get Over Yourself: How to Drop the Drama and Claim the Life You Deserve has been changing lives since its publication in 2006.

She has taught master classes at Yale University as Beinecke Fellow, Rutgers, ACT, UT Austin, University of Louisville, University of San Diego, City College of New York and she teaches third-year undergraduates at Atlantic Theater School at NYU.

She was Heather Dalton on CBS's As The World Turns and Livia Frye Cudhey on ABC's All My Children. Other screen credits include 24, Army Wives, Law and Order and The Strain.
101 Essential Black Films
1.    Within Our Gates, Oscar Micheaux (1920)
2.    Zora Neale Hurston Fieldwork Footage, Zora Neale Hurston (1928)
3.    Imitation of Life, John M. Stahl (1934)
4.    Commandment Keeper Church, Beaufort South Carolina, Zora Neale Hurston (1940)
5.    The Blood of Jesus, Spencer Williams (1941)
6.    Stormy Weather, Andrew L. Stone (1943)
7.    Carmen Jones, Otto Preminger (1954)
8.    Porgy and Bess, Otto Preminger (1959)
9.    A Raisin in the Sun, Daniel Petrie (1961)
10.   Borom Sarret, Ousmane Sembène (1963)
11.    Soy Cuba, Mijail Kalatozov (1964)
12.   Black Girl, Ousmane Sembene (1966)
13.   Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)
14.   Guess who's coming to dinner, Stanley Kramer (1967)
15.   Short films from the L.A. Rebellion (1967–89)
16.   Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Take One, William Greaves (1968)
17.   The Learning Tree, Gordon Parks (1969)
18.   Watermelon Man, Melvin Van Peebles (1970)
19.   Cotton Comes to Harlem, Ossie Davis (1970)
20.   I Am Somebody, Madeline Anderson (1970)
21.   Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Melvin Van Peebles (1971)
22.   Shaft, Gordon Parks (1971)
23.   Superfly, Gordon Parks Jr. 1972
24.   Ganja and Hess, Bill Gunn (1973)
25.   Touki Bouki, Djibril Diop Mambéty (1973)
26.   The Spook Who Sat By the Door, Ivan Dixon (1973)
27.   Uptown Saturday Night, Sydney Poitier (1974)
28.   One Way or Another (De Cierta Manera), Sara Gómez (1974)
29.   Mahogany, Berry Gordy (1975)
30.   Cooley High, Michael Schultz (1975)
31.    Car Wash, Michael Schultz (1976)
32.   A Minor Altercation, Jackie Shearer (1977)
33.   Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett (1977)
34.   Roots, Marvin J. Chomsky, John Erman, David Greene, Gilbert Moses (1977)
35.   The Wiz, Sidney Lumet (1978)
36.   Personal Problems, Ishmael Reed, Bill Gunn (1980)
37.   Suzanne, Suzanne, Camille Billops (1982)
38.   Losing Ground Kathleen Collins (1982)
39.   Ashes and Embers, Haile Gerima (1982)
40.  Beat Street, Stan Lathan (1984)
41.   Purple Rain, Prince, Albert Magnoli (1984)
42.   I Be Done Was Is, Debra J. Robinson (1984)
43.   Krush Groove, Michael Schultz (1985)
44.   The Color Purple, Steven Spielberg (1985)
45.   Raw | Robert Townsend (1987)
46.   Hollywood Shuffle, Robert Townsend (1987)
47.   Coming to America, John Landis (1988)
48.   School Daze, Spike Lee (1988)
49.   I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Keenen Ivory Wayans (1988)
50.   A Dry White Season, Euzhan Palcy (1989)
51.    Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee (1989)
52.   Harlem Nights, Eddie Murphy (1989)
53.   Tongues Untied, Marlon Riggs (1989)
54.   Twice as Nice, Jessie Maple (1989)
55.   House Party, Reginald Hudlin (1990)
56.   To Sleep with Anger, Charles Burnett (1990)
57.   Paris is Burning, Jennie Livingston (1990)
58.   Zora is My Name, Neema Barnette (1990)
59.   Daughters of the Dust, Julie Dash (1991)
60.   Jungle Fever, Spike Lee (1991)
61.    Finding Christa, Camille Billops (1991)
62.   The Five Heartbeats, Robert Townsend (1991)
63.   Boyz N the Hood, John Singleton (1991)
64.   New Jack City, Mario Van Peebles (1991)
65.   Malcolm X, Spike Lee (1992)
66.   Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., Leslie Harris, (1992)
67.   Menace II Society, Allen Hughes, Albert Hughes (1993)
68.   Juice, Ernest Dickerson (1992)
69.   Bebe's Kids, Bruce W. Smith (1992)
70.   Boomerang, Reginald Hudlin (1992)
71.    Posse, Mario Van Peebles (1993)
72.   Sankofa, Haile Gerima (1993)
73.   Poetic Justice, John Singleton (1993)
74.   I Like It Like, That Darnell Martin, (1994)
75.   The Inkwell, Matty Rich (1994)
76.   Jason's Lyric, Doug McHenry (1994)
77.   Crooklyn, Spike Lee (1994)
78.   Devil in a Blue Dress, Carl Franklin (1995)
79.   Waiting to Exhale, Forest Whitaker (1995)
80.   Tales From the Hood, Rusty Cundieff (1995)
81.    Friday, F. Gary Gray (1995)
82.   Higher Learning, John Singleton (1995)
83.   The Watermelon Woman, Cheryl Dunye (1996)
84.   Set It Off, F. Gary Gray (1996)
85.   Love Jones, Theodore Witcher (1997)
86.   Eve’s Bayou, Kasi Lemmons (1997)
87.   Hav Plenty, Christopher Scott Cherot (1998)
88.   Drylongso, Cauleen Smith (1998
89.   Belly, Hype Williams (1998)
90.   Down in the Delta, Maya Angelou (1998)
91.    Kirikou and the Sorceress, Didier Brunner (1998)
92.   The Wood Rick, Famuyiwa (1999)
92.   Love & Basketball, Gina Prince-Bythewood (2000)
93.   Bamboozled, Spike Lee (2000)
94.   Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed, Shola Lynch (2004)
95.   Their Eyes Are Watching God, Darnell Martin (2005)
96.   Timbuktu, Abderrahmane Sissako (2014)
97.    I Am Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck (2016)
98.   Moonlight Barry, Jenkins (2016)
99.   Horror Noire, Xavier Neal-Burgin (2019)
101.  Get Out, Jordan Peele (2017)
You Should Know 

Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951)

Micheaux was an African-American author, film director and independent producer of more than 44 films. Although the short-lived Lincoln Motion Picture Company was the first movie company owned and controlled by black filmmakers, Micheaux is regarded as the first major African-American feature filmmaker, a prominent producer of race film, and has been described as "the most successful African-American filmmaker of the first half of the 20th century". 

Tressie Souders (1897 – 1995)

It is not yet known how Tressie Souders got into the film-making business... In January 1922, the Afro-American Film Exhibitors Company of Kansas City, contracted with Souders to distribute her film "A Woman's Error". Billboard Magazine for January 28, 1922, published the company's announcement that "'A Woman's Error' was the first of its kind to be produced by a young woman of our race and has been passed on by the critics as a picture true to Negro life." 
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Noble Johnson (1881-1978)

Standing 6'2" at 215 pounds, his impressive physique and handsome features made him in demand as a character actor and bit player. In the silent era, he assayed a wide variety of characters of different races in a plethora of films, primarily serials, westerns and adventure movies. While Johnson was cast as Black in many films, he also played Native American and Latino parts and "exotic" characters such as Arabians or even a devil in hell in Dante's Inferno (1924). 
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