Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Oscar Micheaux book fascinating

Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only by Patrick McGilligan is a fascinating look at a South Dakota pioneer and one of America's first great filmmakers.

What makes Micheaux important to South Dakotans is that he was one of the very early black homesteaders in the Gregory area. His homesteading days were a relatively short period of his life, but greatly affected his future movie career and the stories he portrayed. The town of Gregory celebrates his time there with a recreation of his homestead claim and cabin and an annual film festival in his honor.

After attempting farming the South Dakota landscape, Micheaux began writing semi-autobiographical novels and then moved into making what were called "race pictures" with all-black casts. He wasn't exactly the first, but perhaps the most influential of the early black filmmakers. Many of his films depicted scenes and situations that harkened back to his time in Gregory.

McGilligan has also written about movie legends Alfred Hitchcock, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson and James Cagney, so he knows his film history. Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only solidifies the story of a not-so-well-known figure in South Dakota history. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in early South Dakota and movie making in general.

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