Black History Month: Oscar Micheaux, filmmaker and entrepreneur

LOS ANGELES (WABC) -- In celebration of Black History Month, we turn to the story of Oscar Micheaux: a pioneering, African American filmmaker and entrepreneur.

"He was an incredibly industrious person, and he paved his own way," scholar Jacqueline Stewart said. "Oscar Micheaux was an African American director, writer, producer, distributor who made more than 40 films between 1918 and 1948."

Only about half of the movies he made survived until today, but there are enough to show.

"He was telling stories of Black life for Black audiences, and he pushed back against the harsh racism of that time," Stewart said.

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I have long been fascinated with Micheaux in part because he was so far ahead of his time, and I used a recent visit to Los Angeles to learn more about him.

Along LA's Miracle Mile, the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures stands as a monument to the movies. It was built by the organization best known for giving out the Oscars each year; and there among those trophies is an exhibit devoted to Micheaux.

"And I hear people saying, 'How, how did we not know about this guy?'" Stewart said.

She was studying literature at Stanford University when she was introduced to Micheaux's legacy.

"He's someone who's making films at a time when there were so many barriers to people of color, and somehow incredibly he was able to produce an incredible body of work," she said. "He recognized that Black audiences really wanted to see their stories told as well, and he felt a tremendous commitment to telling those stories."

Now, Stewart believes it's time for another generation to discover him.

"He's talking about issues of racial injustice that we are still dealing with today," she said.

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Today, his films, which were made for low budgets, can seem crude.

"Sometimes people laugh at Oscar Micheaux's sound films because the style is not up to Hollywood standards," Stewart said.

But to dwell on that is to miss the point.

"Once you get into the story, you realize it's not about the production values," Stewart said. "It's not about how much money you have. It's about the clarity of vision and the passion you bring to your work, and I think there's a tremendous lesson in that for everyone."

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