AFI Movie Club: BIRTHRIGHT – American Film Institute

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AFI Movie Club: BIRTHRIGHT

Pioneering Black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux’s BIRTHRIGHT is safeguarded for preservation and posterity in the AFI Collection at the Library of Congress. 

Watch actor Lorenzo Tucker discuss BIRTHRIGHT filmmaker Oscar Micheaux.

Movie Trivia about BIRTHRIGHT

DID YOU KNOW? 

In 1919 Oscar Micheaux formed his own movie production company and became the first African American to make a feature film.   

DID YOU KNOW? 

Oscar Micheaux wrote “The Case of Mrs. Wingate,” the first best-selling novel written by an African American. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Many prominent African American stars got their start in Oscar Micheaux’s films, including Paul Robeson and Robert Earl Jones – father to James Earl Jones. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Oscar Micheaux first adapted “Birthright” by T.S. Stribling in 1924, two years after the serialized story was published as a novel. Following the homecoming of a Southern Black man who finishes his education at Harvard, “Birthright” was known at the time as a sharp condemnation of racial segregation and Jim Crow laws. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

The 1924 version of BIRTHRIGHT is considered a lost film, according to the Library of Congress report, “The Survival of the American Silent Feature Films.” This seminal report, which was contingent on documentation in the AFI Catalog, finds that at least 75 percent of America’s cinema legacy has disappeared forever. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Writer/director Oscar Micheaux, who was criticized for the graphic depiction of racism in BIRTHRIGHT, responded with a published declaration that included his intentions as a filmmaker: “I have always tried to make my photoplays present the truth, to lay before the race a cross section of its own life to view the colored heart at close range…that we can raise our people to greater heights.” 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Born in 1884, Oscar Micheaux was the son of former enslaved people and one of 11 siblings who attended segregated schools in Illinois. Working as a Pullman railroad car porter, Micheaux made enough money to buy a farm, but he lost his land in bankruptcy. However, the experience transformed him into a storyteller, and he began his career by writing novels about homesteading as a Black man. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Oscar Micheaux evolved from a novelist to a filmmaker when D.W. Griffith released THE BIRTH OF A NATION, which egregiously championed white supremacy. In opposition, Micheaux started his own production company and adapted his first novel, “The Homesteader,” for the screen in 1919. He went on to write, direct and produce over 40 features, including BIRTHRIGHT. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

The Producers Guild of America, who created an annual award in Oscar Micheaux’s name, called him, “The most prolific Black – if not most prolific independent – filmmaker in American cinema.” In his remarkable career, Micheaux wrote, produced and directed 44 features between 1919 and 1948 and wrote seven novels, including a national bestseller. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Oscar Micheaux was presented with a posthumous Golden Jubilee Special Award for Directorial Achievement from the Directors Guild of America in 1986, 35 years after his death. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

Oscar Micheaux is buried in Great Bend, Kansas – with an inscription on his tombstone which reads, “A man ahead of his time.”

Learn more at the AFI Catalog

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-Is BIRTHRIGHT the first Oscar Micheaux film you’ve seen? Were you familiar with his impact on film history? Can you name another movie by Micheaux?   

-At the time in which BIRTHRIGHT was released, Hollywood filmmaking was nearly ubiquitously white and it was uncommon for Black audiences to see their own stories represented onscreen by members of their community. In addition, Southern movie theaters were segregated by law. What would it have been like to see BIRTHRIGHT when it first opened? 

-Oscar Micheaux first made BIRTHRIGHT in 1924 as a silent film, and then reimagined it 14 years later as a sound production. Although the original film is lost, what do you think would be different between the two versions? (Hint: both synopses are in the AFI Catalog!) Why do you think Micheaux was compelled to tell this story twice? 

-BIRTHRIGHT follows the homecoming of a Black graduate from Harvard University who sees Southern culture through a new lens. How has his education impacted him? Do you have a personal experience of returning to a familiar place but seeing it in a new way? 

-What has Oscar Micheaux’s influence been on contemporary Black filmmakers? 

-What is his ultimate legacy and do his films still resonate today? 

-How would you rate BIRTHRIGHT? 

 

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AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies. Each day’s film is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to enrich your viewing experience.

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How to Watch BIRTHRIGHT Now: View Options

 

Comments (1)

Mike Fields

Thank you for sharing his story! I was aware of Oscar Micheaux and the first film I knew was “Within Our Gates”. As a visual artist I’m doing a series on Black Cinema “From Oscar Micheaux to Black Panther and Beyond.”


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