How a Fearless Pioneer Become the Superhero of Independent Film

The Greatest American Story You’ve Never Heard Of

Robin A Henderson

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An image of Oscar Micheaux, A Black independent filmmaker. He’s dressed in a suit with a hat. He also stands next to another man behind a camera.
Oscar Micheaux | Turner Classic Movies

Obscure Avant-guard filmmaking isn’t something people expect me to know anything about.

I’m a Black woman who grew up in Kentucky.

As a child, the closest thing I had to an art-house theater was a vintage single-screen theater on “Black Business Row.”

I knew there was more for me to discover beyond what society relegated to me.

I’d find filmmakers who examined the complexities and celebrated the joys of various communities.

There would be unique voices who expressed their curiosity about how the world viewed them and how they viewed themselves.

I uncovered ground-breaking Mexican directors like Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros) and Alfonso Cuarón (Y tu mamá también).

Next, I relished expressive, award-winning Asian cinema like Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige) and Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou).

My spiritual awakening happened with Julie Dash’s historic Daughters of the Dust. Black women honoring their roots and fostering community was a revelation on screen.

Fascinating films like these weave a seamless, connected thread. They lace together the boundaries, cultures, languages, and experiences of courageous filmmakers who forever changed the landscape of filmmaking.

I fell in love with independent films because they reflect the hopes, dreams, and fears of all humanity.

Who Created This Captivating and Imaginative Style of Storytelling?

A few months ago, I came across the documentary called Oscar Micheaux: The Superhero of Black Filmmaking. It was written and directed by Francesco Zippel and is about a prolific independent filmmaker from the early 1900s.

I’d never heard of Micheaux before. It also surprised me to learn someone created films outside the traditional Hollywood system so long ago.

How is it that no one in the independent film community mentions him?

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Robin A Henderson

I write about inclusive storytelling in Hollywood and diverse representation in wellness.