Sunday, July 8, 2012

Capsule Review: Within Our Gates (1920)

The oldest surviving film by an African-American director, Within Our Gates paints a devastating picture of race relations in the United States just a few short years after D.W. Griffth's incendiary The Birth of a Nation. The plot is rather disjointed - perhaps the result of the original inter-titles being lost - but involves a young African-American woman's attempts to raise money for a poor southern school by traveling north. The show-stopper occurs in the film's final twenty minutes, where the woman's past - which involved the lynching of her family after her father is falsely accused of murder - is finally revealed. It's a necessarily angry film, but one that recognizes the capacity for change. Some late melodrama dulls its edge, but director Oscar Micheaux proves himself a capable director in only his second film, and shows Griffith didn't have a patent on making passionate and political films.

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