This was the first film made by a black director in America. That director was Oscar Micheaux (Mee-Cow) and he made what are known as race films. He began during the silent era and continued into the sound era. He would make films for black audiences and then he would show them in black communities until he could make enough money to make another film (a practice still done in ethnic communities today).
The story isn’t all that important. It involves a love triangle, a girl who escaped from the South after a lynching, and a school for blacks. What’s important are the actual black faces on the silver screen of the 1920’s, the positive portrayals of blacks while not shirking away from the fact that some blacks were lowlifes or in league with white oppression, and how Micheaux made use of the intertitles to make very strong uplifting statements like the one below.
Only 5 years prior to this film, D.W. Griffith had made his cinematic masterpiece Birth Of A Nation, which also happened to be very racist and nearly single-handedly resurrected the KKK. Micheaux was able to give black audiences movies that showed the truth of their situation and gave them screen idols that they could identify with. Much like the characters of blaxploitation films like Shaft. Except that these were real down to earth people rather then over the top super heroes. 5 years after this film Micheaux would give one of the first great black actors his start, Paul Robeson.
The picture below is the priest that is used by whites to convince blacks that they should stay where they are because adopting the ways of the whites would surely lead them to hell.
My favorite intertitle is the one below in which Micheaux goes in the opposite direction of the whole black movement since this films release by claiming that blacks were never immigrants. They were here when this country was born, have fought to defend it, and this is their home. This is totally different from the whole African-American thing. You’ll notice I didn’t use that term until now since I believe it sends the wrong message that blacks will always carry the tag of being African regardless of how many centuries their family has lived in Jamaica, Haiti, or Canada to name a few. It’s better to take the few minutes to find out how they identify themselves.
See this movie, it’s a piece of American history and a cinematic first.