Within Our Gates (1920)
Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.
Within Our Gates Photos
as Sylvia Landry
as Alma Prichard
as Conrad Drebert
as Larry Prichard
as Det. Philip Gentry
as Dr. Vivian
as Geraldine Stratton
as Jasper Landry
as Philip Gridlestone
Critic Reviews for Within Our Gates
Micheaux's narrative manner is as daring as his subject matter, with bold flashbacks and interpolations amplifying the story ...
Though the narrative structure is somewhat choppy, director Oscar Micheaux otherwise demonstrates mastery of the silent form, using supple compositions and careful editing to amplify the characters' emotions in a manner that makes sound seem superfluous.
Within Our Gates is full of surprises, following a multitude of characters and plotlines without settling into predictable allegiances.
Audience Reviews for Within Our Gates
Thought to have vanished until a single Spanish copy was found in the 1970's, it's a miracle this movie still exists, and it's the oldest surviving film made by an African-American director. That in and of itself makes it very special. It belongs to the genre referred to as 'race films' - movies made by African-Americans for African-American audiences between 1915 and 1950 - the vast majority of which are sadly no longer with us. I'll say up front that the movie is a little scattered, and the acting is mediocre at best - but viewers need to realize this was par for the course for movies in 1920, and this is a rare film from the period that actually has something to say. One of Micheaux's messages is that African-Americans need to be educated and to be allowed to vote in order to rise and have any real power in a country dominated by whites - a country that he still believed in despite its racism, that African-Americans had recently fought for in WWI (albeit in segregated troops), and one he points out they were never immigrants in. In the film there are whites who want to help, and quite generously, and there are also whites who want to keep African-Americans in their place, rationalizing that this will keep them happier, that they have no capacity for anything other than field work. The thought of women's suffrage (which would finally pass into law later in the year the film was released) is repellant to one white woman because she fears African-American women would also have the right to vote. Even more notoriously, there is a mob of whites who lynch a black family, as well as one who attempts rape in scenes which are both powerful and absolutely harrowing. Micheaux shows us the cruel injustice of what were common practices, an ugly part of our history that is hard to acknowledge even today. When the film was released, it was highly controversial for those scenes, and banned or edited in some places. What I was a little surprised by was Micheaux also showing us the negative effects of several African-Americans on their own culture - there is a gambler and thief known as "The Leech", a preacher who urges his congregation to be happy with their place in life because the country belongs to the white man and Heaven will be their reward instead, and a servant who incites whites with misinformation. The latter two endure humiliation with a smile, and Micheaux gets across the point that these variations of 'Uncle Tom' are selfish, helpful to themselves in the short term, but harmful to the culture. I took it as a brilliant call for strength and unity. Micheaux can't help himself in giving some of the characters what they deserve, examples of which are the actual killer for the murder being pinned on an African-American being shot in the hunt, and a little African-American boy escaping the lynching on horseback. While artistically some of these seem questionable, in this case they're probably necessary, because the film would have been far too depressing otherwise. Silent movies from this time period are often hard to watch, they come across as quaint and dated, and the filmmaking seems amateurish by today's standards. 'Within Our Gates' is certainly flawed, but it's a priceless expression of the African-American experience in 1920, and should be seen.
As interesting a discussion of race relations as any Spike Lee joint. Due to its early place in cinematic history, it is among fellow films in attempting to define the cinematic narrative, which can make modern viewing somewhat strenuous. However, objectively, it is an incredibly influential and powerful film.
Oscar Micheaux's "Within Our Gates" might introduce too many characters in its short running time, but this masterful work addresses character psychology and larger social issues in such a provocative way. Film's use of editing to visualize interiority is inspired, offering rich insights into complex characters. Micheaux isn't content to simply focus on racism on an individual level, also tackling important systemic problems.
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