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With a Crooked Stick : The Films of Oscar Micheaux

Indiana University Press

With a Crooked Stick : The Films of Oscar Micheaux Overview

It's been said that "some folks can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick." Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) sought to do just that, for the cause of African American film and uplift. In With a Crooked Stick -- The Films of Oscar Micheaux, J. Ronald Green deepens his study of Micheaux's cinematic accomplishments through detailed critical analysis of each of his extant films. More than a film guide, however, With a Crooked Stick also illuminates the life, career, and business practices of this pioneer of early cinema.

With a Crooked Stick : The Films of Oscar Micheaux Table Of Content

Introduction 1
1 Biographical Backstory 13
2 Within Our Gates (1920; second film) 39
3 Symbol of the Unconquered (1920; fourth film) 53
4 Body and Soul (1925; fourteenth film) 66
5 The Sound Era: Signifying with Music 97
6 The Exile (1931; twenty-fourth film) 112
7 The Darktown Revue (1932; twenty-fifth film) 136
8 Veiled Aristocrats (1932; twenty-sixth film) 140
9 Ten Minutes to Live (1932; twenty-seventh film) 148
10 The Girl from Chicago (1932; twenty-eight film) 165
11 Murder in Harlem (1935; thirty-first film) 177
12 Underworld (1937; thirty-third film) 191
13 God's Step Children (1938; thirty-fourth film) 205
14 Birthright (1938-1939; thirty-fifth film) 232
15 Swing! (1938; thirty-sixth film) 248
16 Lying Lips (1939; thirty-seventh film) 260
17 The Notorious Elinor Lee (1940; thirty-eighth film) 267
18 Conclusion 275
App. 1: A Short Filmography 283
App. 2 Jubilee: African-American Spirituals 285
App. 3 Sources for Obtaining Micheaux's Films 289
App. 4: Comment on Selected Web Sites 291
Bibliography 293
Index 301

With a Crooked Stick : The Films of Oscar Micheaux Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

In the early decades of Hollywood, black and white actors rarely interacted on screen, and good roles for blacks were almost nonexistent. However, low-budget, independently produced "race movies" filled the gap, playing to African American audiences. Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) was one of the most persistent and successful of black filmmakers, directing almost 40 films between 1919 and 1948. Because he was ignored by the white media (only one of his films was reviewed by the New York Times), unfortunately only 14 survive. In this companion to his Straight Lick: The Cinema of Oscar Micheaux, Green (film studies, Ohio State Univ.) provides a painstakingly detailed examination of Micheaux's surviving films, paying particular attention to the director's concern for "racial uplift"; his critique of stereotyping; his treatment of sensitive issues like lynching, interracial marriage, and anti-Semitic prejudice; and the role of class awareness in the black community. The book draws on themes from Micheaux's parallel career as a novelist and notes the importance of music in his films. Micheaux is compared with other contemporary black thinkers like W.E.B. DuBois, but the author concludes that Micheaux didn't want to demolish capitalism; instead, he wished to ensure a level playing field. Although Micheaux's career was ultimately doomed by racism, Green hails him as an "early, scrappy, successful" figure who helped pave the way for later independent directors like Spike Lee and John Singleton. Academic in tone but generally accessible to motivated readers, this study is recommended for large black history collections.-Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.


"Following up on his outstanding Straight Lick: The Cinema of Oscar Micheaux (CH, Mar'01), Green focuses on 15 of the more than 40 all-black films the African American novelist-director made between 1919 and 1948. The biographical chapter sharply outlines the US racial context, Micheaux's challenges as a prototypical independent, and autobiographical elements in his films and seven novels. Between his treatment of the silents and the sound films, the author pauses to examine Hollywood's black-cast musicals, whose theme of spiritual uplift Micheaux always subordinated to class advancement. Anticipating the poststructuralists, Micheaux's brand of musical quotation.. directly serves his principal rhetorical concern: the treating of the disease of ethnic caricature. Despite a somewhat formulaic analysis of the films, Green clearly establishes Micheaux's unrelenting critique of white supremacism and black complicity, his strong and original style, and his promotion of moderation, independence, and ethical integrity for class uplift. Green argues that even the antithetical successes of Van Peebles/Burnett and Cosby/Winfrey/Singleton/Lee have not achieved an institutionalized cinema of the middle classes, a cinema worthy of Micheaux's prior accomplishment. Green appends an insightful study of African American spirituals to this learned, passionate, and persuasive study of a fascinating artist. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers." —M. Yacowar, University of Calgary, Choice, October 2004

— M. Yacowar, University of Calgary

Readers' Reviews

With a Crooked Stick : The Films of Oscar Micheaux

Book Info

  • Book Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13: 9780253343826
  • ISBN-10: 0253343828
  • Number of Pages: 314
  • Dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 0.99 (d)
  • Approx Price: $24.51
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