Within Our Gates (1920)

Oscar Micheaux’s bold, forceful melodrama, from 1919—the oldest surviving feature by a black American director—unfolds the vast political dimensions of intimate romantic crises. (…) With a brisk and sharp-edged style, Micheaux sketches a wide view of black society, depicting an engineer with an international career, a private eye with influential friends, a predatory gangster, devoted educators—and the harrowing ambient violence of Jim Crow, which he shows unsparingly and gruesomely. Along with his revulsion at the hateful rhetoric and murderous tyranny of Southern whites, Micheaux displays a special satirical disgust for a black preacher who offers his parishioners Heaven as a reward for their unquestioning submissiveness. Micheaux’s narrative manner is as daring as his subject matter, with flashbacks and interpolations amplifying the story; a remarkable twist regarding Sylvia’s identity, slipped in at the end, opens up a nearly hallucinatory historical vortex.

Richard Brody, The New Yorker

  • Language: no dialogue
  • Distribution: Library of Congress