Find Your Film Director’s Spotlight: Oscar Micheaux (‘Within Our Gates’ And ‘Body And Soul’)

We discuss Oscar Micheaux's impact as one of cinema's most trailblazing pioneers.

On the latest Find Your Film director’s spotlight we delve into the works of Oscar Micheaux. Released in 1920, Within Our Gates is, as stated by The Criterion Channel, “the earliest surviving feature film by an African American director.” Body and Soul marked the cinematic debut of Paul Robeson.

Find Your Film co-host Eric Holmes picked Oscar Micheaux for the spotlight, and that name was foreign to all of us. Both Holmes and Bruce Purkey watched the Micheaux features on YouTube, and I checked them out on The Criterion Channel. You will have several options to view Within Our Gates and Body and Soul.

That said, The Criterion Channel features a plethora of Micheaux’s work along with special features (for example, Body and Soul also comes with a commentary). Both Within Our Gates and Body and Soul contains a new score from DJ Spooky, and seeing the silent films in this manner is definitely recommended (the music enhanced the overall experience).

DJ Spooky talked about his involvement in crafting the score for the movies in an interview for The San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

On a social level, both of Micheaux’s films are narratives that hit straight through your gut (Within Our Gates, released in 1920, features a lynching and Body and Soul centers on a corrupt man of the cloth). In a career spanning several decades, Micheaux’s prolific creativity and entrepreneurial spirit continues to inspire, and Tyler Perry has been developing a biopic based on this celebrated filmmaker.

Take a listen below to hear our episode on Oscar Micheaux. Show breakdown is also included!

0:00 – Intro
0:33 – Eric Holmes’ intro to Oscar Micheaux
2:34 – The films we are covering this week from Oscar include Within Our Gates and Body and Soul.
3:33Within Our Gates was Oscar Micheaux’s response to D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.
4:38 – Our review of Within Our Gates which is available on YouTube and the Criterion Channel.
6:45 – Eric Holmes believes that Quentin Tarantino may have been influenced by Oscar Micheaux’s films in terms of non-linear storytelling. “This movie got me angry, but in a good way.” – Holmes.
11:46  – “This is very dangerous filmmaking” – Bruce Purkey
13:30 – Eric Holmes describes the movie as “Brilliant storytelling.”
19:12 – Bruce Purkey on the idea of how Birth of a Nation is probably show more in film class than Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates.
22:26 – Before Eric Holmes picked Oscar Micheaux for our director’s spotlight, none of us knew who Oscar Micheaux was.
24:00 – Bruce saw the Library of Congress version of Within Our Gates.
24:45 – Eric Holmes loves watching Silent movies without the music, and that is what he did with both films.
26:21 – I preferred watching both films with the score from DJ Spooky. You can check Within Our Gates and Body and Soul on The Criterion Channel.
27:21 – Filmmaker/producer Tyler Perry cites Oscar Micheaux as a big influence for his own career.
28:15 – Eric Holmes sees Oscar Micheaux and Spike Lee as kindred spirits.
29:14 – John Boyega would be perfect if they ever did a movie on Paul Robeson. Robeson is the lead actor of Body and Soul.
30:30 – Bruce gives his take on Body and Soul.
31:10 – “This movie illustrates gaslighting very well.” – Eric who describes Micheaux as the “proto-Christopher Nolan.”
35:56 – I talk about actresses Julia Theresa Russell and Mercedes Gilbert who are a big part of Body and Soul.
41:10 – Eric on the prospect of Tyler Perry doing a possible biopic on Oscar Micheaux.
45:50 – In two weeks, our director’s spotlight will be Maya Deren (Meshes of the Afternoon).
48:00 – Whenever he gets the chance, Eric Holmes will mention Joe Dante (the director behind Gremlins).

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