The true story of Oscar Micheaux, from sharecropper's son to homesteader to best selling author to America's first Black film maker. A truly inspirational tale of a man embracing the American Dream in the face of growing Jim Crow laws and prejudices to pioneer an industry.
In 1900, at the age of 15, Oscar Micheaux helps his mother sell produce at the local farmer’s market. Not intimidated by a Klan member who threatens him, he is restless to venture out into America, where Booker T. Washington promises a young Black Man can be whatever he wants if he is educated and works hard. He goes to live with his sister Liv, a schoolteacher, where he meets Jesse, a young beauty who he adores. He moves on to Chicago to join his brother and find work in the factories. Finding work hard and inconsistent he decides to go into business for himself as a shoeshine boy. Though he finds a niche through his ingenuity, shining shoes is not going to make him rich. He pursues a job as a Pullman Porter, and his ability to charm and sell himself finally lands him the well paying job. Crossing the country on the railroad he learns about business from the rich clientele. He learns how to excel at giving people what they want while exploring the new America. He writes to Jesse, telling her his dreams of buying a homestead in the great northwest where he believes they can build a successful life, free of prejudice. Upon hearing of the opening of the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota to homesteading, he enters the land rush lottery, finally securing a homestead in the town of Gregory. On the plains he is the lone Black man for miles, but he ingratiates himself into the community by working hard, being generous with his help to others, and being charming and friendly. His inexperience makes him the target of crooked horse salesmen and others’ ridicule, but he gains respect plowing his entire 160 acres the first season in his bare feet. He returns for Jesse, ready to make her his wife, but she has grown tired of waiting, and when he arrives she has married another man. Heartbroken, Oscar returns to South Dakota and throws himself into his work. He eventually buys two more homesteads. He also falls in love with Sarah, the beautiful red haired daughter of another homesteader. She returns his affections, but even though Oscar is considered to be one of the community, the reality of an interracial relationship drives the two apart. Feeling the pressure to marry and sink his roots deeper, Oscar seeks out a childhood acquaintance, Orlean McCracken, for marriage. A preacher’s daughter, Orlean is not suited to frontier life. Though Oscar builds her a big house, when she loses their first child at birth, Orlean’s preacher father steals her away. For good measure the preacher sells the land Oscar put in Orlean’s name out from under him. To make a bad situation worse, the weather in South Dakota turns against the homesteaders with a vicious drought. Oscar stands to lose all his homesteads, so he turns to writing of his life to make money. With a loan from a town leader who admires Oscar, he self-publishes a semi-autobiographical novel, THE HOMESTEADER, distributing it to Black communities across the country. As a writer Oscar is a success. He opens publishing offices in Sioux City, and writes more books. Attracting the attention of The Lincoln Film Company to make movies from his books, Oscar refuses to compromise when they suggest he needs to soften his frank stories for the silver screen, and sets off to make the films himself. Returning to South Dakota he raises the money for his film from the locals. Hiring famous Black actors, he completes his first feature film, THE HOMESTEADER in 1919. He writes incendiary reviews, and battles with censors over scenes of lynching and inter-racial love, knowing that the controversy puts an audience in the seats. He creates the “Midnight Ramble,” where late night Black audiences can see films in “White Only” theaters. In 1920 he releases his second film, WITHIN OUR GATES, a stunning answer to D.W. Griffith’s racist masterpiece, BIRTH OF A NATION. Oscar would write seven novels, and make over 40 films in his lifetime, yet most of his films are lost today. He strove to put truth on the silver screen, and present “the race” in all it’s facets, which has left his legacy fragmented. But the independent film structure he created in his lifetime stands on it’s own, and makes Oscar worthy of the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star that bears his name.