Within Our Gates

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Within Our Gates is a 1920 silent race film that dramatically expresses the racial situation in America during the violent years of Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, the Great Migration, and the emergence of the "New Negro". The story focuses on an African-American woman who goes North in an effort to help a minister in the Deep South raise money to keep a school open for poor Black children. Her romance with a black doctor eventually leads to revelations about her family's past that expose the racial skeletons in America's closet, most famously through the film's depiction of a lynching. Produced, written and directed by novelist Oscar Micheaux, it is the oldest known surviving film made by an African-American director.

Lost for decades, a single print of the film, entitled La Negra (The Black Woman), was discovered in Spain in the 1970s.[1][2] In 1993, the United States Library of Congress restored the film as close to the original as possible.[1]

Often regarded in the context of D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, which had appeared four years earlier, Micheaux's project has been characterized as a response to the racism of Griffith's work. The film's depiction of lynching shows "what Blacks knew and Northern Whites refused to believe", turning the "accusation of 'primitivism'... back onto White Southern culture".[3]

Contents

Background

Two events spurred the film's creation: the release of D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) four years earlier, with its heroic portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan after the American Civil War; and the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, in which numerous blacks were killed and thousands left homeless due to buildings being burned.[4] Micheaux chose the film's name as a response to D. W. Griffith, who used the line "Within your gates" in a film to suggest that people should not harm one another, lest they be harmed. For Micheaux, the tables could turn and whites could be harmed in the future.[5]

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