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Fiction writer and filmmaker OSCAR MICHEAUX was born in 1884 near Metropolis, Illinois, the son of freed slaves, one of eleven children. Over the course of his early life he worked in Chicago as a shoeshine boy, as a Pullman porter, and as a homesteader and farmer in southern South Dakota and northern Nebraska, near Valentine. Eventually he began writing novels, including The Homesteader and The Conquest, in his shack-like home on the prairie, creating his own publishing company and distributing the books door-to-door. His success attracted the attention of the Lincoln Film Company, which offered to film The Homesteader in 1918. But when they refused to produce the film on the scale Micheaux expected, he formed his own production company, The Micheaux Film and Book Company (later the Micheaux Film Corporation), making and distributing the film himself, the first full-length feature film written, produced, and directed by an African-American. He continued producing films about African-Americans and employing all-black casts, the only all-black company to produce and distribute films nationally and in Europe through the 1920s and 30s. In all, Micheaux produced, directed, wrote, and distributed over forty-three films — twenty-seven silent films and sixteen talkies, several based on his own writing, making him the most successful African-American fillmmaker in history. Sadly, most of the films were lost, only ten remaining commercially available. Many prominent filmmakers, including Robert Townsend, Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, and Tim Reid cite Micheaux as a major inspiration. African-American singer and actor Paul Robeson made his film debut in the Micheaux movie Body and Soul in 1924. Micheaux's film Within our Gates was a response to DW Griffith's controversial film on race relations Birth of a Nation (1915). Micheaux died of a heart attack in 1951 at the age of 67 while on a trip to North Carolina to promote his work. Actor James McDaniel of NYPD Blue is currently working on a Micheaux film biography. In 1986 Micheaux was honored, along with Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa with the Golden Jubilee Special Award from the Directors Guild of American. He is also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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Nebraska Center for Writers