filmmaking pioneer Oscar Micheaux’s 1920 film “Within Our Gates,” was his second
film from the over 40 films he made during his career and some consider it
his best film.
The film was
shot in and around the Chicago area when his production company was based there, before he moved to New York (which remained the center for most of his film productions
until his last film “The Betrayal” in 1948, which he returned to Chicago to make).
made “Gates” not only as a response to D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of Nation,” but also
to the infamous Chicago race riots of 1919, known as the “Red Summer of 1919,” in which 23 African-Americans were killed, and
over 400 injured by white mobs.
Of course, as
with all of Micheaux’s films, the storyline is too melodramatic and convoluted
to go into here, with his usual overabundance of coincidences, but it becomes
starkly serious and brutal in the final third of the film.
the rather prosaic image above from the film fool you; the film packs a power
and emotional impact, depicting the mob lynching of a black husband and wife, and an attempt to lynch their son as well.
Not surprisingly, the film was censored in several cities, including Chicago, for fear of
inciting yet more race riots, and was only later allowed to be seen in various
cut editions. Though the film was a big
hit with black audiences, it would eventually become lost for decades, until an almost
complete print of the film, entitled “La Negra” (“The Black Woman”), was
discovered in Spain in the 1970s with Spanish subtitles.
The film was
eventually restored to its original version, and in 1992, it was selected
by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film
Registry as being “culturally,
historically, and aesthetically significant.”
screened nowadays, but, this Sunday, Turner Classic Movies cable channel will broadcast
the restored version starting at 12am Sunday/ Monday (11PM Sunday Central time).