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The Secret History of Chicago Movies: Within Our Gates

One of the best kept secrets of Chicago’s secret film history is that the Second City was in fact first when it came to producing “race movies,” films made by, for and about African Americans. William Foster, the black manager of Chicago’s Pekin Theater, founded the Foster Photoplay Company and directed what is believed to be the first movie with an all-black cast, The Railroad Porter, in 1912. The success of that slapstick short film, reportedly inspired by the Keystone Cops, in turn inspired other African Americans to try their hand at motion picture production and black-owned independent film companies soon sprang up in America’s major metropolitan areas. It would not be until 1919 however that an enterprising black filmmaker would attempt to make a “feature” motion picture (i.e., one running more than forty minutes in length) and this too first happened in Chicago: the film was titled The Homesteader, an epic “super-production” running over two and a half hours, and its director was an ambitious first-time helmer named Oscar Micheaux (pronounced “me-shaw”).

Micheaux was well known in Chicago even before he ventured into the movie business. As a young man he spent five years homesteading a farm he had purchased in Gregory, South Dakota. From there, he published articles in The Chicago Defender, one of the nation’s most widely circulated African American newspapers, urging black Americans to follow his example by moving west and purchasing land. Micheaux’s experiences as a farmer served as the basis for the plot of his first novel, The Conquest, which he self-published in 1913 and followed up with The Forged Note in 1915 and The Homesteader: A Novel in 1917. Micheaux traveled around South Dakota, selling these novels door-to-door to his predominantly white neighbors. He reincorporated as the Micheaux Book and Film Company in 1918 and used the same door-to-door business model to sell stock in what would be his first film, an independently produced adaptation of his most recent novel. The resulting movie, shot at the recently abandoned Selig-Polyscope studio on Chicago’s north side, was phenomenally successful with African American audiences and critics. Although it is sadly a “lost” film today, the success Micheaux had with The Homesteader encouraged him to sink his profits back into his company; a follow-up movie, Within Our Gates, was rushed into production and released the following year. This incredible film, an incendiary and unflinching look at racism (also shot in Chicago), remains the earliest surviving feature made by a black director.

Micheaux directing a film that may be Within Our Gates:

One of the most interesting aspects of Within Our Gates, especially from a 21st century film studies perspective, is that it effectively functions as a response to D.W. Griffith’s notorious 1915 production of The Birth of a Nation. Griffith’s epic, a technically astonishing piece of virtuoso filmmaking that is sometimes credited as the movie that first codified “film language,” galvanized audiences wherever it played. This was in part due to Griffith’s unparalleled skill with dynamic framing and cutting and in part due to the movie’s unfortunate racism – notably the climactic scene where the Ku Klux Klan heroically ride to the rescue of the white protagonists who are trapped in a cabin besieged by a black militia. This climax is a good example of Griffith’s pioneering and massively influential technique of using crosscutting to create suspense during rescue scenes. The fact that Within Our Gates would appropriate Griffith’s editing schemes (on a tiny fraction of the budget of The Birth of a Nation and in order to explicitly reverse the earlier movie’s ideology) has ensured that, ironically, Griffith and Micheaux are now jointly studied in film history classes throughout American college campuses.

Within Our Gates tells the melodramatic and somewhat convoluted tale of Sylvia Landry (played by the peerless Evelyn Preer), a young African American woman who endeavors to raise money to save a school for black children in the rural south. Much like The Birth of a Nation, Micheaux’s story alternates between scenes taking place in the north and the south and also cuts back and forth between action occurring in separate locations in order to generate a suspenseful climax. The climactic scene in Within Our Gates however is rendered even more complex by containing a lengthy flashback to Sylvia’s youth (and thus involves cutting across time as well as space) and, specifically, the events that led to her adoptive black parents being lynched by an angry white mob. This lynching scene is intercut with an equally horrifying scene where Mr. Gridlestone, a villainous middle-aged white man, attempts to rape the young Sylvia before recognizing a scar on her chest that identifies her as his own illegitimate daughter. This disturbing near-rape occurs ironically beneath a portrait of America’s Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.

Mr. Gridlestone’s attempted rape of Sylvia reverses the ideology of Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation:

In The Birth of a Nation, the actions of the Ku Klux Klan are justified (and even valorized) as necessary in order to combat the threat of potential assaults on white civilians (particularly white women) by supposedly dangerous black men. The complex and clever intercutting of the climax of Within Our Gates unpacks this racist ideology by showing the historical reality of who did the lynching as well as who represented the real sexual menace. Upon its initial release, Within Our Gates garnered its own Birth of a Nation-style controversy, including a protracted two month battle with Chicago’s local censorship board that virtually guaranteed the film would play to packed houses when it eventually opened in early 1920.

Like The Homesteader, Within Our Gates was thought to be a lost movie until a single print was discovered in Spain (under the title La Negra) in the late 1970s. Restored by The Library of Congress in 1993, the film is still only an approximation of Micheaux’s original vision; sadly, all 15 of Micheaux’s surviving pictures exist today only in truncated form, typically a result of censorship boards excising material deemed inflammatory (although oftentimes such decisions were made arbitrarily). Even more remarkable than the movie itself is the fact that Within Our Gates was merely one of the earliest steps in a directorial career that lasted thirty years and comprised approximately forty five features (by far the most prolific career of any black filmmaker of the era). Micheaux would go on to be the first director to cast the great Paul Robeson in a film (1925’s Body and Soul), the first to make an “all-talkie” race movie (1931’s The Exile) and he would continue to make films undaunted, even under the threat of looming bankruptcy and occasionally in the face of scathing criticism by the black press, until shortly before his death in 1951.

The Oscar Micheaux story deserves to be much more widely known and his films deserve to be more widely seen. Throughout his career, Micheaux’s fortunes rose and fell, the quality of his output varied wildly and his battles with local censorship boards were legendary. But he was indefatigable and resilient. He had to be; Micheaux spent decades touring the country with his movies, which he self-distributed out of the trunk of his car, oftentimes while staying one step ahead of his creditors. And he did it all during an age when independent film production was not considered a viable career path for anyone in America, much less a black man. Today Micheaux is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and an annual film festival in Gregory, South Dakota. Unfortunately, there is nothing in Chicago to mark the addresses where he shot his first movies. The Micheaux story is yet another chapter in the remarkable but too little known history of early film production in Chicago.

If anyone has any information regarding the location of “Capital City Studios,” the Chicago studio where Within Our Gates was allegedly shot, please contact me at mikeygsmith@gmail.com.

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

28 responses to “The Secret History of Chicago Movies: Within Our Gates

  • John Preskitt

    Excellent find, or should i say excellent discovery whomever found the print in Spain. Crazy to think of what celluloid we’ll find in the future.

  • michaelgloversmith

    Exactly, John. It’s crazy how many “lost” films are discovered every year. My favorite story is how the original version of The Passion of Joan of Arc was found in the closet of a Swedish mental hospital in the 1980s. Also, the complete Metropolis wasn’t discovered until 2008.

  • suzidoll

    I am a big fan of MIcheaux. Facets used to carry his films on VHS–though they were not in very good shape. Still, it’s remarkable any survived considering he worked independently and there was no organized institution to preserve his work.

    • michaelgloversmith

      I’m a big fan too although I can think of no other director of that era who remains as divisive today. A lot of historians think he was technically incompetent, while others hail his crazy sense of film syntax as intentionally radical, Dziga Vertov-style innovation. For me, the truth is somewhere in between.

  • Josh

    Within our gates was the first silent film i have ever seen .

    Had you not told us in class that this film was made by an African American I would have thought otherwise . This film was very racially charged and way too similar to the race relations we have today . The scene that stuck me most was the lynching scene . It literally made me cringe . The only other movie to do that was American History X . When Edward Norton makes the African American bite the curb .

    The scene where they frame Landry for killing Mr Gridlestone . This is all too familiar in Chicago . People getting framed and can’t prove their innocence .

    Although this was a silent film , it made a lot of noise .

  • Brian Stern

    Of the silent era films I have seen thus far this was the first that was feature length. Surprisingly it was among what the more thought provoking films I have seen when it came to the racial divide. The polar switch you described in comparision of the rape depictions in Birth of a Nation versus Within our Gates really showed a change of perspective and gave a glimpse of two sides of a subject that many are ignorant about. Besides the racial tones seen in the film I found the way that this film was discovered and survived to be the most interesting. Hearing how films were being censored and edited at a theatre by theatre basis made having a copy even remotely close to the filmmaker’s original vision a tall order. In regards to this film it was nearly excellently restored to what you would think a theatre patron might have seen back in the day. My only complaint was the musical accompaniment that plays along with the film sometimes changed to a modern sounding synthesizer type of beat which took away from the tone of the scenes. The idea of having a seemingly lost film wind up found in an unlikely place on the other side of the world is astounding. Reminds of a bit of dialogue in a movie from a few years back. The movie was Sahara and a bit of the plot involved a Confederate era gold coin is found in a desert in Africa. One of the main characters trying to make sense of the distance the coin travelled to the main character and has a line about saying how his father collected old coins and they wound up in a shoebox in New Jersey. The idea of things being seemingly lost just waiting to be found is intriguing.

  • Joseph Jackson

    When it comes to Black cinema, the common moviegoer tends to have misunderstandings about its history. The general consensus is that it got started by Sidney Poitier’s films, flourished with blaxploition in the 70s, was killed by “The Wiz” film by 1978, laid dormant for the 80s (with Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor being some of the few successful black film stars), was revived in the 90s by Spike Lee and other filmmakers and has continued success today with both the good like Steve McQueen and not so good like Tyler Perry. However, before all of that, in the heart of Chicago was a growing movement of black cinema, slowly starting to make its name. Directed by Oscar Micheaux came “Within Our Gates” one of the more brutal and hard-hitting criticisms of the racial attitudes of the time.

    The plot revolves around Sylvia Landry’s quest to raise money for a school for black children as well as follows the many trials of people in her life. We witness the stories of many people, including Sylvia’s own childhood. From Old Ned, the sell-out preacher, Elena Warwick the kindly white philanthropist and many more. It’s as brutally honest as a silent film could get at the time. From the straight forward writing, the down to earth performances and even the cinematography, this is as a brutally honest look at racism in the early 20s.

    What makes this film work is that it’s a dark look at both black and white America in the 1920s. While we have the typical (though tragically true) racist white land owner but we also have shockingly, black villains…kinda. As I mentioned, Old Ned is a sell-out preacher, constantly talking about the failings of the black man and using religion to hold them down. He seeks only money and safety from his hurtful teachings. However at the very least, he does feel guilt for his actions, which the landowner’s henchman does not have. Efrem the henchman is a dirty rotten rat of a human being, gleefully getting Sylvia’s parents lynched all for the sake of his own safety and popularity. Unlike most of the black characters whom speak fairly intelligently and dignified, Efrem talks like a bloody minstrel show character…he even looks like one! You want to see the little rat get his comeuppance…and he does….oh my does he…

    Efrem’s death is what I like to call a “Rule of Rose death.” There is a video game called “Rule of Rose” and throughout it, you want to see the child villains (all the characters are children as it’s the study of a woman’s past horrors) who have been putting you through such turmoil suffer. When they get killed however, you feel less satisfaction and more…guilty, as if to say “Didn’t you want this to happen you heartless bastard?” Efrem gets lynched…on screen. You cheer that the scum gets killed…but he gets killed the same way many innocent black citizens got killed. With Sylvia’s parents lynching, it’s a dark reminder that it didn’t just happen to people like Efrem. It’s as if the filmmakers said “Hey, here’s the character you hated getting hanged, now here are the characters you liked going the same way!!!”

    It’s a very dark film but definately needed at the time it was made, and thank god after almost one hundred ways, most of North America has moved past this era.

  • Kitty Richardson

    What I find most intriguing, inspiring and absolutely gut wrenching about “Within Our Gates” is its modern accessibility. For an independent film made in 1920 the film covers an amazing amount of specific and not yet textbook defined struggles faced by the African American community. The portrayal of certain African American characters as disreputable shows that Micheaux realized that to progress as a community criticism of the unnamed and unexamined behavior, that had grown up around white supremacy, of that same community had to occur. Analyzing this behavior made it open to destruction and many did not appreciate that as the practice of religious beliefs and of attempts of white assimilation, which African Americans had used as a means to survive, came under the microscope. The lying preacher, Old Ned and even The Leech all exemplify this behavior and the questionable aspect of upholding these practices as they are shown to be a means of oppression. Quelling the justified rage of black communities through promises of a divine beyond as reward for a passively lived life and by re-channeling this rage at others within the community and pitting poc against each other in competition for an unachievable status of whiteness. The parallels between “Within Our Gates” and the modern world, where the twitter hashtag #teamlightskin was a thing that existed not even as a joke, is unnerving and made the viewing somewhat somber as well as a call to arms.

  • Tyler Kiczula

    Oscar Micheaux’s story is incredible. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for an African American in this time period to make this film. It’s hard to believe that he went door to door in rural South Dakota selling novels to make money which allowed him to make his films. Not only did he make a film he made a “race film”, which was controversial in both communities. It’s very fascinating that this film counters the ideology of Birth of A Nation. What’s sad though is that this film seems all too relevant today, especially after the recent elections. I would have loved to see the uncensored version of this film, it’s too bad we don’t have it. Hopefully more of his work is discovered, I’d definitely be excited to see more of his films.

  • Jeno James

    This is most silent film that I’ve ever watched thus far this was the first that was feature length. This movie seemed like it’s about racism and abusing innocient people. At the scene where Larry had gone back to the north side to his step sister Alma, she looked nervous and told Larry that he shouldn’t have come back to the north side because Detective Phillip Gentry had police protection around Almas house for killing a man when he was playing a game of poker. Larry was standing there smoking his cigarette and looked like he didn’t really care. Alma was to beg him to leave town by grabbing out of the house. Seemed like Larry didn’t want to leave his step sister.

  • Jennifer Domkowski

    Within Our Gates was a very powerful film to watch. It’s so much more common that movies now portray racism in a comedic way or involve a lot of stereo types that aren’t accurate to all people. I can only imagine what a film like this meant to people especially at this time period, but even today where we still deal with discrimination. This film was also very realistic compared to the exaggeration some movies had. Even though, there were obvious messages that wanted to come across in this film such as how there was a scene with a white man trying to rape Sylvia in correlation to how some people felt it was only African American men who were a threat, I felt like the film wasn’t over exaggerated in any extent to make it seem like that’s what the entire movie was based on, making an extreme opposite statement to the earlier film mentioned with the white women being victims to black men. This movie showed all people as individuals. There were intelligent and morally correct people in this film that were African American and also Caucasian. It was a very realistic and also honest, yet didn’t show an overly extreme statement such as that “all people are a certain way.” I think because of this it made the scenes showing obvious racism even more powerful and effective.

  • James Hrajnoha

    Within Our Gates was a very powerful piece of race cinema and one I had not known existed, as well as the KKK film Birth of a Nation. But what I would like to add to say is that of all characters in this film none caught my attention more then Efrem, who is like a male African American equivalent to Gossip Girl, except at the end of it all it ends in a lynching. Which is a rather dark way to look at this but as i’ve thought about him the more that connection feels right. But this movie’s end was both bittersweet and sweet depending on how you look at it. if you look at it as now she has someone to love and cherish her, or that the country she calls home does not truly love or want her there.

  • Rajiv Mishra

    Oscar Micheaux’s, “Within Our Gates” is by far one of the most inspirational and gripping films that I have seen. What makes this film truly incredible is the fact that this was made in 1920, a time when short films were most commonly enjoyed, following Chicago’s first ever feature film was made by the same director just a year before! Originally when I had read the phrase “film language” I didn’t know what was meant by that. However, after seeing this film I understand that it means expressing scenes, plot, story, life, struggle, obstacles, sex, love, pain, suffering, joy, and emotion. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of detail that Micheaux displays in the direction of the film. The scene in which Sylvia Landry’s mother and father are hanged was quite gruesome but it depicts the realism that is and was taking place during this time period in southern states.

    Going back to the language of film, the message that Micheaux is sending to the 1920 audience is the depiction of the beauty of an african american, and what is means to be an african american living in the south. The message is simply that human beings with positive intentions, regardless of the pigmentation of their skin will always settle for what is the right thing. Even in the flashback scene in which Sylvia is about to be raped by Armand, who is her illegitimate father. Armand pays for Sylvia’s education and leaves without telling her that he is her father because of the negative implications.

    ~Rajiv

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  • Tink De Lance

    This movie was an eye-opener for me. I knew about the racism of the time but to actually see the lynching being acted out was a shock to me. Especially the fact that they tried to include the kid. I liked seeing it from the African American perspective because it didn’t sugar coat the way they were treated like in a lot of movies and it didn’t portray them all as silly or uneducated. Micheaux should also be commended for the way he portrayed white people. I think he portrayed them in a far better light than black people are depicted in a lot of ‘mainstream’ movies.

  • Garrett Solomon

    “Within Our Gates” proved to be fascinating for me from a historical perspective not just because of its place in the history of African-American filmmaking, but also because the film gave me an idea on how independent film distribution worked in the early 20th century. The film’s director, Oscar Micheaux, would take the films he made and distribute films across the country himself. In this sense, he was like a door-to-door salesman of the film industry. But considering how indie film distribution worked back in the day, Micheaux found himself prone to a number of setbacks, one of which was having his films hacked up by local censors to meet sensibilities at the time. As a result, Micheaux’s existing films are only available today in incomplete forms while a good amount of the rest of his work became lost over time, so I may never know how Micheaux’s 2 ½-hour directorial debut “The Homesteader” turned out. This is kind of a shame because Oscar Micheaux was making movies in an effort to make white audiences understand the plight of the African-American community in ways that D.W. Griffith not only failed at, but was hypocritical about as well.

  • Patrick Stein

    with in our gates was created in 1920 by the infamous oscar muchieax who not only directed the film, but also wrote and produced it. at the time this piece was celebrated for it’s explicitly and because the producer and director was blank also the movie really tested the waters of the f.cc.of the time. in earth shattering methane that film was debated about for the gruesome imagery that could easily incite a race war.you have to remember even though this film would got maybe a pg13 rating today, it came out in 1920, a very conservative era.so the media heavily criticized the release of this film and similar to today’s media they thrive off of scandal so this was a huge story.. this film was mainly flagged for a rape scene and lynchscene both of which they don’t really show.just before and after shots.I was expecting tarantino and fell short.

  • Nicole Majewski

    Within our gates was incredibly fascinating to watch because we saw the racism that was going on during that time from the black communities perspective. Though knowing that racism was a prevalent part of our history this film really put it in perspective. There were scenes much like in a horror film I had a hard time watching and almost had to look away. The lynching scene was one of those. We learn about of Sylvia’s hardworking, family oriented adoptive parents that were working towards paying for their children’s education to let them have a better life. We later see a misunderstood situation unfold that ended in the death of Sylvia’s fathers boss. This leads her father and her mother being lynched by an ignorant mob of white people. Sylvia’s father’s boss was white and the ironic part was that he was actually killed by another white man. Another bit of irony is the reason why the mob was miss lead was that they were given wrong information by the black butler. This man thought he had his ticket in with this angry mob for giving up Sylvia’s dad but it actually got him lynched for no reason other than the color of his skin. Watching that all unfold was tough to watch. Then actually seeing them get hung. The only bit of light in that whole scene was seeing Sylvia’s brother get away on a horse while all of this was unfolding. The next scene that was hard to watch was the rape scene. Watching Sylvia struggle to fight her way away from that man was a tough scene to watch. It seemed like a scene that went on and on. Only to have her be saved by the scar on her chest marking her as one of his children. Bringing so many other thoughts into your mind like realizing that her real mom most likely fought this same fight and receiving that scar on her chest was just another traumatizing event poor Sylvia had to go through in her life. All of these dark events making her a strong, determined woman doing everything she could for her cause. Her cause being perfectly depicted by a quote for her, “It is my duty and the duty of each member of our race to help destroy ignorance and superstition.” Oscar Micheaux was definitely an innovator of his time. He brought through his film so much emotion and pain in this film which takes a talented director to do so. It is a shame that we don’t get to see his films in their full glory.

  • Nick Opfer

    I thought this film was very interesting given the time period it was released. I can’t help but wonder what the reception of the film would have been within the white community. A movie depicting whites as horrible people surely wouldn’t have been received very well. Regardless, I found the scenes with lynching and near rape to be pretty intense, especially for the time period. A true shame that Micheaux’s works haven’t been well preserved.

  • Derek Colon

    This film astonished me with how potentially divisive it was. The film was originally screened at a time where the content of this film would have been scoffed at. I wonder how scarily realistic the film was for those times. The near rape of the main female lead by her own blood I imagine would have been eye opening to say the least. How much content was cut from the original piece? I’ll never know but I wish I knew what the original piece looked like the whole way through in-cut. I loved this film, which says a lot because silent films aren’t really my cup of tea. Such a bummer that we will never know what the movie was intended to look like in the directors eye’s but at least I was able to watch most of it. Mad respect!

  • krusha patel

    The film had a classic early century storyline, based on how black people were treated specially in a small village area. It was a great film with a little romance, family issues, jealous friend, and the sad truth. Women were never treated equally and men were always ready to jump on them, and it also happened in the movie. There is a phrase that a lot of women use when men catcall them ” don’t you have mother and sisters”, saying so how would you feel if somebody did such a thing to your own mother or sister and in this case, she was his daughter which is even worse. It was really bummer that not a lot of the director’s films survives through the decades.

  • Flavio Torres

    Oscar Micheaux definitely took a lot of risks showing the harsh truth of what African Americans still went threw post civil war. I can understand why the censorship committee would cut out certain parts of the film because of the shame they felt. Especially with the lynching scenes where they purposely controlled the media to simply say “black man murdered, suspect still on the loose” to hide the lynchings from the rest of the country. I would have liked to see the scenes that were censored out to get the full story Micheaux told.

  • Neil Chisholm

    I have to give Oscar Micheaux much credit. Back one hundred years ago, the black people of America were really held down, there is no question about it. Hardly any white people had a notion of a black person being anything like their equal. Today it’s not perfect, there will always be prejudice, but as a race in this country, I believe the black people are doing much better; in some cases, like in sports and entertainment, outstanding.
    Back to Micheaux; this man had intelligence, drive, and ambition. That he could write his own stories, produce and direct his films, and be a one-man studio, was fantastic. And in doing so, he got authentic images and lives of his people up there on the screen, and did not do it to please white audiences. He really was a pioneer, and it must have been mighty difficult, with all the hardships of trying to make movies when you are a black man, and no doubt having to negotiate with prejudiced white people to do so.
    Furthermore, he did not have the benefit of anyone teaching him film techniques, he just apparently learned by looking at movies like “Birth of a Nation.” By the way, I saw that movie at Ripon College in 1969, and the black students turned out to heckle it, for which I could not fault them one bit, and their sarcastic comments were very funny. It was the one and only time I would excuse this behavior. As for “Within Our Gates,” it was melodramatic and full of excitement, with social commentary about the place of black people within American society. The very appealing actress Evelyn Preer was good as the often-persecuted heroine. I hope Micheaux made a good profit from this movie, and he must have, for he continued to make movies until his death in 1951. I would like to see more of these obscure little movies made by and for the black audiences.

  • Ethan Ng

    This movie was absolutely fascinating to watch. While I definitely did not consider it an “entertaining” film, it was both an informative and heart pounding film. By showing the film from the perspective of a black person, Oscar Michaeux had already created something different from the films of that time, but by showing the intensely graphic scenes, such as the lynching and near rape scene, he showed the harsh reality of being black in that time period.
    I like how your post compared this film to The Birth of a Nation, a film I was more familiar with but didn’t know about the comparisons to this film.

  • Christina

    Having access to the oldest known extant feature film by an African American director I think is an invaluable resource– in terms of studying the sociopolitical milieu as well as in terms of the filmmaking/directing aspects. There’s just so many different aspects one could focus on, so much to unpack beyond the most obvious plot elements– Old Ned’s betrayal of his “birthright” and the implications that has on religion’s impact on equal rights; Mrs. Stratton, the racist, misogynistic (and one could argue misanthropic) Southerner talking to Mrs. Warwick; Efram’s behavior and eventual lynching; Alma’s betrayal of Sylvia…

    No one is really spared from his social/political commentary. The medium of his commentary, Sylvia, is really the only character who goes without true criticism, as far as I could tell. And maybe Dr. Vivian. While making obvious commentary on the revisionist history Griffith presents, Micheaux does not refrain from shining light on what some in the African American community might consider his or her dirty laundry.

    In future, I would like to watch Birth of a Nation alongside Within Our Gates, the better to eavesdrop on the conversation Micheaux is having with D.W. Griffith. (While trying to find an answer to ‘within whose gates?’ the title is apparently inspired by a line from Birth of a Nation.) I feel like a poor student of history that I miss certain references, especially those provided by Dr. Vivian in the closing scene of the film. Part of my thinks his mentioning African American contributions to the war effort and saying that “[they] were never immigrants,” is a veiled criticism of Vivian’s self-held beliefs.

  • alex

    Within Our Gates was a very interesting movie. I wish that it has been in better condition and not cut up by censorship. It is a shame that there are not that many of his movies that have survived over the years. What I enjoyed about the movie was the other side of the story. We saw how African american’s were treated at the time. It brought a darker side to the story, and I am surprised that he had the courage to actually show some of the scenes in the movie. For example, the lynching scene was very disbursing, but I know why he did it. He needed to show the world and future generations what was really happening during the time. Hopefully, someone else finds one of his other movies in an old box somewhere in the world. I would really like to see more of his work.

  • Alex Sewielski

    As am amature historian I found Mischeaux’s work to an interesting primary source for African-American culture in the 1920s, especially since a lot of which would be lost to the ravages of time, and unfortunate censorship of the era. His story is in someways a complex narrative for silent films especially when it comes from an independent film maker as himself, and even more so the fact that he had to overcome racial biases a long with those issues. However, it is a testement to the spirit of independent film making, and also now an inspiration for myself. The film does have many rough spots, especially certain editing cuts, and some screenwriting choices that also show the rough and ready/inexperience of a diy film maker. Still a very interesting film.

  • Matt Fortune

    Within Our Gates was a very important and influential piece in which it really emphasized race. It demonstrated multiple qualities and aspect in which are typically ignored or irrelevant in other works of art and or films. I believe this work of art inspired multiple people to make and represent a totally new outlook on films. Encouraging producers to get out of their comfort zone and stop riding the wave of films making its own wave of films. This was a very strong article with lots of passion as well as the film. Very intriguing to read about.

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