Within Our Gates


Within Our Gates was made in 1919.

1919 was when:

  • The “feature-length” for movies that we are still familiar with today was becoming the norm
  • The “grammar” for film editing and storytelling was becoming conventionalized,
  • Hollywood, California was becoming the undeniable center for American film production
  • Hollywood “studios”—corporations (many of which we still know) that made, distributed, exhibited movies—were forming up.

In important ways we still live with the moviemaking conventions and practices that came into being around 1919.

Within Our Gates was made in 1919. But its 1919 was a very different 1919. Its 1919 was when:

  • African American soldiers who had fought valiantly in World War I for the freedom of others found themselves oppressed when they returned home
    Racial conflicts erupted in many cities and towns across the U.S., with the result that many African Americans lost their livelihoods, property, and, too often, their lives
    Lynching was on the rise across the U.S., and many African Americans were moving to cities and from the South to the North hoping to find new opportunities and full citizenship.
  • Within Our Gates, made by Oscar Micheaux, a remarkable independent African American filmmaker, was a response to these events. It was also a response to the fact that Hollywood films did not acknowledge these events or make room for African Americans either in front of or behind the camera—and when it did depict African Americans, as in the notorious case of Birth of a Nation (1915), it contributed to, rather than examined or protested, racism.
  • In important ways, American movies and entertainment more broadly have only recently begun to catch up with Micheaux’s political and aesthetic concerns: Making seriously entertaining popular art that encourages its viewers to see connections and complexity—to sort their collective history as they make their present—rather allowing them to settle for simplicity and false clarity.