Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 10
Oscar Micheaux’s Life of “Soaring Ambition”
“He then shook my hand, tipped his hat to Mama, and mounted his horse. I watched him ride back toward his place until he disappeared over a low hill.” ~ Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux
Chapter five of Oscar’s Gift ends with Oscar Micheaux once again entering Tomas’s life, this time as a fellow homesteader intent on proving to himself and to the world that he could soar to whatever heights he could imagine. In his first novel, The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer, Micheaux reminisced about his thinly veiled sixteen-year-old self:
“Another thing that added to my unpopularity, perhaps, was my persistent declarations that there were not enough competent colored people to grasp the many opportunities that presented themselves, and that if white people could possess such nice homes, wealth and luxuries, so in time, could the colored people. ‘You’re a fool’, I would be told, and then would follow a lecture…”
“…I became so tired of it all that I declared that if I ever could leave M–pls I would never return. More, I would disprove such a theory and in the following chapters I hope to show that what I believed fourteen years ago was true.”
In an article in last week’s Chicago Tribune, “Oscar Micheaux: A Legend’s Links,” Christopher Borrelli quotes Thomas Cripps, author of Making Movies Black, who concludes that Micheaux’s “his soaring ambition and racial sensibility far outstripped his technical skills and bank account.”
“[Leroy Collins] starred in 1948’s The Betrayal, Micheaux’s last film. He played a black South Dakota rancher who falls in love with a (seemingly) white sharecropper’s daughter. The character was named Martin Eden (after the Jack London novel) but, despite the unlikely plot, he was actually playing Micheaux.
‘Micheaux’s obsession was telling the story of his own life,’ said Patrick McGilligan, a Milwaukee-based film scholar who wrote the 2007 biography, Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only. ‘He kept reworking details over and over — his years in South Dakota, his romances. It makes him not only unique as a black director, it makes him an auteur. But the thing about The Betrayal: After years of not making films, he poured his heart and money into one last big movie, his summary work.'” (“Oscar Micheaux: A Legend’s Links“)
The article also captures the larger than life aspect of Micheaux’s life and careers—apart from commercial success or fame, or the lack of it—that first drew me to learn more about the man and his life. As Borrelli writes, “He lived several lives, most of them epic.”
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