Screening: Saturday, November 10, 8 p.m., Rich Theatre
As the first major African American feature filmmaker and the most accomplished producer of race films, Oscar Micheaux’s career is perhaps the epitome of American independent cinema. Yet it’s important to note that in a time when the greatest technical and stylistic achievements in cinema were shrouded in white supremacist ideology (see D.W. Grifith’s 1915 Birth of a Nation, for the definitive example) and an emergent Hollywood system espoused racism both narratively and institutionally, black filmmakers had no choice but to be independent filmmakers. Micheaux was not just an independent filmmaker because he was working outside Hollywood, however, he was also an artist of distinct vision within the race film context and an author, director, and producer of his own making. When the Lincoln Motion Picture Company–one of the few race film production companies of the period–wanted Micheaux to cede control over the adaptation of his novel, The Homesteader, he took the project into his own hands, creating the Micheaux Film and Book Company in the process. Micheaux cultivated a world of African American cinematic representation so that this marginalized, distinct cinema soon became the fully-fledged mainstream of African American cinema. Many of the films of this era are lost to us today, but Micheaux’s Ten Minutes to Live (1932) has survived and has been preserved by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. We’re lucky to have Ten Minutes to Live for any number of reasons, but especially as a reminder of American independent cinema’s greatest potential–to carve out a space for divergent visions and voices that otherwise might not be seen or heard.