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Oscar Micheaux directed and wrote this powerful story about racial prejudice and its consequences.
Art-2211 January 1999
I was deeply affected by parts of this story about the plight of negroes as told for negroes by negro director Oscar Micheaux. Ostensibly, it's about a woman who tries to help a poor southern school for negroes by getting financial help to supplement the meager amount the state provides, but it is laced with observations about racial prejudice. One bigoted southern woman living in the north is against the women's suffrage movement for fear that negro women will get the right to vote. And she expresses her negative sentiment about educating negroes: "Thinking will give them a headache." Micheaux gets more points across in the best part of the film, the flashback scene near the end prefaced with a title card "Sylvia's Story." We see how a negro preacher agrees with some condescending whites that the negroes should keep their place, but privately condemns himself for doing so, announcing that "negroes and whites are equal" to himself. We see how injustice reigns with a lynch mob and how the innocent, even an innocent bystander, can easily become victims of racial prejudice. The film is worth seeing for this sequence alone, providing images that caused me to lose some sleep. Micheaux also slips in comments about the negroes' accomplishments in the Spanish-American and Mexican wars and WWI, as if to bolster the low self-image of his negro viewers. The film may be primitive by some standards, but Oscar Micheaux tells a powerful story.

The film was intended for negro audiences, but because of some controversial parts (rape and lynching) many exhibitors refused to show it, so very few saw it when it was released. This being the earliest surviving film made by an African American, it was placed on the National Film Registry and lovingly restored from the only surviving copy in Spain (see the alternative version listing for details). The Library of Congress is to be commended for doing such a fine job.
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Amazingly high quality film for its time
planktonrules17 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
So often, Black-American cinema during the 1920s-40s is second-rate due to their exceptionally tiny budgets. While Hollywood had an abundance of money, films designed for Black audiences were generally made on shoe-string budgets with low production values. Despite this disadvantage, this early film (according to the video jacket, the oldest known Black-produced film) actually has a very contemporary look--on par with many of the mainstream movies of the day.

The film is the story about a woman who has a sordid past--just exactly what that is you only learn towards the end. The way the film is made, it APPEARS she is a woman of loose morals, though this is deceiving. This woman, despite her baggage, really is a very decent person--dedicated to educating poor Black children in the South. She spends much of the film working with these people and then leaving the school to head up North to find finances for the failing school. Late in the film, the sordid past is revealed. Exactly what it is you'll have to see for yourself, but it includes lynchings and illegitimacy--some pretty racy stuff for the time.

The film has a very strong message to encourage Black-Americans to become educated to earn self-respect and their piece of the American dream. The "good" main characters are exceptionally loyal and patriotic citizens and from time to time they are contrasted with Blacks who are less ambitious and worthless (such as the sellout preacher). Because of this, the film offers some excellent insight into the psyche of the Black community and their aspirations. This is truly an important film historically and pretty compelling viewing.
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Priceless expression of the African-American experience in 1920
gbill-7487715 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
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.
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An Amazing Take on African-Americans in 1919
JohnHowardReid6 May 2008
The best word to describe this film is "amateurish". While it does have a central focus, the muddled, confused and confusing plot proceeds in fits and starts. Characters drop in and out of the narrative seemingly at random and sometimes change outlook right in the middle of a scene.

Worse still, the film has been edited with a proverbial meat-ax. Odd bits and pieces of irrelevant action are often spliced without rhyme or reason into the movie, further adding to the viewer's difficulties in following the plot.

Despite all obstacles, however, individual scenes do succeed. The lynch sequence exerts a terrible power because—whether by design or accident—it looks like an actual newsreel event.

Acting too is mighty variable. Evelyn Preer does good work as the unsettled heroine, Bernice Ladd makes a forceful bigot, and there are two outstanding actors among the ranks of obvious amateurs in the support cast: E.G. Tatum and the uncredited Old Ned.

Which brings me to the most amazing aspect of Micheaux' vision. "Within Our Gates" is a cry for justice, but no apologia. In fact it often seems to go out of its way to present a surprisingly warts and all take on African-Americans. The two men just mentioned, for instance, enact self-seeking traitors (and do so brilliantly). The little spiv, Jack Chenault, is a despicable criminal, and even the second female lead seems somewhat unsympathetic (especially in the film's original uncensored version which has unfortunately been lost).
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Oscar Micheaux's Within Our Gates is an interesting historical fictionalization of the plight of African-Americans during the early '20s
tavm2 February 2011
With this month being once again Black History Month, I'm-for the second time since first writing these IMDb reviews back in 2006-commenting on various films made by African-Americans both in front of and behind the screen in the order they were made and released chronologically whenever possible. So it's 1920, which is the year from which the earliest surviving movie made by writer, producer, and director Oscar Micheax comes from. In Within Our Gates, Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer) dedicates her life to helping poorly educated kids of her race get a good education in the Southern states she resides in. But the money the school gets are not enough so she goes up North to get some more funding from a rich white lady. I'll stop there and just say that while there are some compelling scenes concerning other characters-like that of a couple of people that betray their own race like that of Rev. Wilson Jacobs (S. T. Jacks) and Efram (E. G. Tatum), a loyal butler of a wealthy white man named Gridlestone-the most compelling focus of the story concerns Sylvia's background concerning her previous family life with the Landrys which consist of father Jasper (William Stark), his wife (Mattie Edwards), and their young pre-teen son, Emil, (Grant Edwards) when we learn of their fates and that of Sylvia herself when she nearly gets mixed up with another man named Gridlestone, especially when the intertitle reveals his connection with her. Some of the other characters like that of fiancée Conrad Drebert (James D. Ruffin), Alma Prichard (Flo Clements), Larry Prichard (Jack Chenault), Dr. V. Vivian (Charles D. Lucas), and Det. Philip Gentry (William Smith) don't seem so connected especially concerning Conrad but they also have some compelling scenes. One more thing, as a Chicago native, I was fascinated seeing the Windy City as it looked at the time and learning that some of these players came from there. So on that note, Within Our Gates is worth seeing.
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Michael_Elliott7 March 2008
Within Our Gates (1920)

*** (out of 4)

Oscar Micheaux's response to Griffith's The Birth of a Nation faced its own share of controversy when originally released and was banned in black communities all over the country. The film was thought lost until a print showed up in Spain in 1993 and this remains the oldest surviving feature from a black director. A light skinned black woman, living up North, travels to the South to teach at an all black school. Since the government isn't helping to educate black kids, the woman goes back North to try and find rich white folks who will help in her cause but she's met with racism, from blacks and whites and a secret from her past might catch up to haunt her.

As with the Griffith film, you could overlook all the controversy surrounding this film and judge is for what good it does do and its historical importance. Watching the film with today's standards and politically correct nature, it's still easy to see why so many black folks were offended by a film that was made to have a moral tale. Micheaux shows racism going from black to white and white to black but, unlike the Griffith film, he also shows that races can show hatred toward their own race. Not many people have viewed this film, which is a real shame because it's heart is certainly in the right place and if you take the historic importance away from the Griffith film, more folks should be checking out this movie instead of that one.

Technically speaking it's rather amazing at how well Micheaux pulled this low budget film off. The editing is very good and really helps build up the suspense towards the end of the film. The story could have been worked on and a lot of the performances are quite poor but that doesn't take away from the film's message. The ending involves the backstory to our main character and this includes a lynching scene as well as a rape scene. Both of these scenes are very well done and pack quite a punch for a 86-year-old film. This sidestory, which is basically a remake of the ending to the Griffith film, has some over the top moments, which weren't needed but again, the film's heart and message is in the right place so hopefully more will seek this film out and let the other one die.
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Incredible Silent Film
fnkyfrshdrssed1915 June 2006
I disagree with the first comment. I did not find this movie silly at all. I believe it was up to par with any other silent movie of this same period, and the acting was not atrocious. I think it was a very provocative movie for its time and, whether it was purposefully or not, a great response to DW Griffith's "Birth of a Nation." That movie showed a mulatto man trying to force himself on a White woman, along with numerous other stereotypes of Black people in that movie. "Within Our Gates" showed the true side of what really happened, especially with the lynching, and the main character and her *real* father. I feel privileged to have seen a Black silent film, especially one of such high caliber.
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Powerful and Shocking!!
kidboots28 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is a mighty epic and many critics believe it was a response to Griffith's fairytale vision of the South and was trying to show that "primitivism" belonged to the White Southern culture. Just the year previously was the Chicago Race riot where white mobs had killed blacks and burned residential districts leaving thousands homeless. Oscar Micheaux worked with a very limited budget, borrowing costumes and props and having no money to reshoot scenes.

Dealing with the value of education and the right to vote, this race movie has some shocking scenes involving a lynch mob - no one watching this would not be moved and sick to their stomachs. The plot is extremely convoluted with characters established then disappearing. Sylvia (Evelyn Peer) is visiting her cousin, Alma, who secretly loves Conrad, the man Sylvia is engaged to. She intercepts a telegram sent to Sylvia to tell of Conrad's surprise arrival and arranges for the girl to be caught in a compromising position with Alma's brother, Larry, a criminal who is wanted by the police. Sylvia returns to the South after being rejected by Conrad and knowing Larry to be a murderer.

She then becomes involved in the running of a school for poor black children but soon returns North when funds run out and she promises to do what she can to try and meet the right sort of people. She meets Mrs. Warwick, a wealthy philanthropist who is eager to help Sylvia's people gain knowledge and suffrage but unfortunately the lady seeks advice from Mrs. Stratton, a racist Southern woman who feels that "black people are only good as slaves and education is wasted on them - all they care about is getting to heaven"!! The film then goes off on another tangent showing Preacher Ned bowing and scraping to the white man but full of self loathing and disgust at the way he has to behave. Micheaux is quick to show that while Preacher Ned is an "Uncle Tom" he is not an evil man. The school ends up with a $50,000 donation as Mrs. Warwick is sickened by the other woman's remarks.

Back in the South once more Sylvia is visited by Larry who wants her to get rid of some stolen property or he will tell her new friends about her unsavoury past. She runs, rather than become involved in crime, straight to the arms of Dr. Vivian who has always loved her and wants to help her forget her unhappy past (Alma, now repentant, has confessed all to the doctor, which includes a very graphic depiction of a family being lynched).

At the time critics feared riots if certain scenes were not deleted from the print and it was banned from cities which had just experienced the race riots.

Highly Recommended.
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Diverse Storytelling
Cineanalyst26 February 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Besides being historically significant, credited as the earliest surviving feature film directed by an African American, Oscar Micheaux, and an early entry in the "race film" genre, "Within Our Gates" is interesting in its narrative construction and representation and compellingly and competently so, especially for an independent, low-budget production from 1919-1920. Discourse on race in silent cinema (and, really, past that via its derivatives, such as "Gone with the Wind" (1939)), tends to be dominated by what is likely the most influential and controversial movie ever made, "The Birth of a Nation" (1915). Central to that D.W. Griffith epic was its racist depiction of blacks and perversion of American history in romanticizing slavery and a Reconstruction era as rescued by the KKK. "Within Our Gates" may and has been viewed as a contemporary rebuttal to Griffith's picture in this way, but Micheaux also ingeniously rewrote some of the same sort of narrative devices employed by Griffith--balancing melodrama with seemingly-more-realistic scenes of brutality, emotional appeals with intellectual ones, and crisscrossing between characters, subplots and timelines in an arrangement that, ultimately, follows more in the tradition of Griffith's "Intolerance" (1916) in its non-linear plotting--for which Micheaux employed to reverse racial stereotypes and depict a history and present more strikingly true than any authored by Griffith, or those the likes of Thomas Dixon or President Woodrow Wilson who inspired him. Indeed, "Within Our Gates" recalls the then-recent Chicago race riot of 1919, as well as the history of lynchings in the United States.

In typical melodramatic fashion, "Within Our Gates" begins with a love triangle (or circle, really), where the main character, Sylvia, is engaged to one guy, whom her cousin Alma conspires to have for herself, while Sylvia is also pursued by Larry, a criminal and stepbrother of Alma. Additionally, Sylvia is proposed to by a founder of a school for African Americans located in the South--an educator seemingly partly inspired by Booker T. Washington--and a doctor who is "passionately engaged in social questions," and she's nearly raped by a white man.

The sexual-assault scene is the inverse of the climax of "The Birth of a Nation" where Lillian Gish's white virgin is attacked by a rapacious mulatto and political ally of her father, which leads the father to change his ways in the face of a quasi-incestuous attack perpetrated against his daughter. "Within Our Gates" features a more likely scenario given historical racial power dynamics. Sylvia is also of mixed race, which itself recalls the history of white masters raping black slaves and the continuation of violence against African Americans into the Jim Crow era. Sylvia is about to be raped by the brother of a man whom her adoptive father is falsely accused of having killed until the would-be-rapist sees a scar on Sylvia that's proof of her being his biological daughter. As in "The Birth of a Nation," the father, thus, realizes the errors of his ways. Also as in Griffith's film, the sexual-assault scene takes place within a larger-scale act of violence. The Klan's battle with the black mob in "The Birth of a Nation" and the white mob's lynching of Sylvia's innocent adoptive parents in "Within Our Gates," in addition to the lynching of yet another African American and the attempted one of a child.

These most shocking scenes in Micheaux's picture, however, are tempered by being framed as a flashback, as told by one character to another, neither of whom were involved in the events. Indeed, Micheaux plays around quite a bit with the perspective of the plot. Early on, Larry oversees a card game that ends in a shootout (by the way, this has to be some of the most ludicrous card cheating ever conceived, as one player cheats by dealing the cards over a mirror!), but this scene is additionally framed from Sylvia's perspective as a nightmare. We see another scene where Sylvia is interacting with the man we don't yet know to be her father and for whom her fiancé is led to believe she is having an affair. And, in the climactic flashback sequence, there are two scenes of the murder of Gridlestone--a flashback-within-a-flashback--one where we see how it really happened, but also as only partially observed by Efram, and another where we see a newspaper's fantasy of it to lend justification to the extrajudicial lynchings.

This is ambitious storytelling, especially for 1920 cinema. I don't even fault Micheaux for the tacked-on happy ending, as it's so absurdly out of place in its jingoism that it, too, reminds me of the sort of national or universal messages Griffith would likewise attach to the ends of his films, and Micheaux has nothing on Griffith in the overuse of wordy title cards full of purple prose. The clutter of characters and subplots, too, seems characteristic of epic melodrama. I don't mind, either, that the film (in its current state, at least) doesn't wrap up everything neatly and leaves some questions unanswered. Besides, much of the reason for that, as well as the sometimes choppy editing, is likely due to lost footage. The presentation of the film on the "Pioneers of African-American Cinema" set only mentions one missing scene and the loss of most of the original title cards, but others have indicated that more is lost. (I also wonder whether the freeze frame at the end was original or added later.) Alma's transformation, for instance, is never really accounted for, nor is how she knows more about Sylvia's history than does Sylvia. Sylvia's relationship with Larry seems to be cut short in the end, as do the ultimate fates of Larry and the detective chasing him. What was Sylvia doing with her father in their first brief shot together? For that matter, what's Sylvia's childhood history, including the story behind the scar and the events leading to her adoption? What's with the shot of the woman in the forest?

Not all the subplots seem to fit with the main one, either, but Micheaux goes to considerable lengths to cast an array of characters of varying complicated motives, to problematize racial issues and not merely represent entire races, as Griffith tended to, as good or bad, intelligent or not, slavish "faithful souls" or rapacious mulattos. One philanthropic white woman donates a large sum to the black school, while another white woman spews racist animus. Efram and the self-hating preacher Ned are a twist on the patronizing "faithful souls" in Griffith's film. African Americans are shown to be educators, doctors and detectives, but there's also the criminal Larry. Sylvia's father and Alma are alternately charitable and vicious. Additionally, the acting here tends to continue in the tradition of Griffith's troupe of a more-restrained screen performance (the final shot of Ned is a standout), although as in his films, there are occasional outbursts here that are overblown--the actor portraying Sylvia's fiancé, in particular, is a ham at playing jealous. Regardless, "Within Our Gates" is a fascinating piece of history, of black representation on screen, of the beginnings of African Americans being in control behind the camera, of innovative storytelling and style, and as a counterargument to the most notorious mainstream film within its time.
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Peter Reiher got it right, but the ending is thoroughly odd
morrisonhimself15 January 2009
Oscar Micheaux is one of my motion picture heroes.

With courage and determination, he set out to make movies for and about black people when it wasn't otherwise much done.

He was a pioneer in independent film-making, raising money in the most unusual places and unusual ways.

He deserves a lot of praise ... but, alas, his results were too often disappointing.

"Within Our Gates" has a lot of potential, but most of it is unmet.

The acting is pretty good, but the camera work and editing are lacking; and the script misses badly.

The story is a good one, and the school that is at the heart of a major subplot has a real-life counterpart: Professor Laurance Jones created a school for the black people of the piney woods near Jackson, Mississippi, in the very earliest years of the 20th century.

Professor Jones' story is incredibly inspiring and I urge everyone who cares about spirit and courage to take a look (http://www.antiqbook.com/boox/vol/21991.shtml is one source).

Micheaux and Jones have somewhat parallel lives, though Jones ultimately achieved recognition in his lifetime.

Micheaux should have, and I am grateful beyond words that at least his films are finally being seen by a wider audience.

They are flawed, yes, but they present two stories we all need to know about: The actual topic of the movie, and that of Micheaux himself.

The ending of this movie is, frankly, beyond my comprehension. It seems to come out of thin air, and I fear it must have been hastily tacked on in order to placate someone. Too bad, but still the movie is historically valuable.

This is added June 10, 2015: There is a print available at YouTube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1E0NrcnwAE

I haven't watched more than a few seconds, but so far it's a terrible print.
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Oscar Micheaux's answer to D.W Griffith. The first of many movies film by black filmmaker
ironhorse_iv9 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This film is the older known surviving print that was produced and directed by Oscar Micheaux. He is considered to be the first African American director of feature films. The movie was lost for a long time. The movie was found in late 70's, when a single print of the film was discovered in Spain. Still, the movie suffers much due to old age. The film is in rough state when it was discovered. Scars and scratches are all over the film. A brief sequence in the middle of the film was also lost. Only four of the original English inter titles survived, the rest having been replaced with Spanish inter titles when the film was distributed there. Much of the film is still incomplete as many scenes depicting abuse and murder were excised by the film board prior to release. The reasons of this was because they deem it too provocative after the 1919 Chicago race riots. The film focus on the physical, psychological and economic repression of the African American to the point that it was called a race film even if the movie wasn't all produce by all black cast. Produced primarily in northern cities. The target audience consisted primarily of poor southern blacks and southerners who had migrated northward. The problem with most race films is the fact that it rarely treated the subjects of social injustice and race relations. We see black people suffering but we don't see the races trying to heal the conflict. Its only goal to bring upon more anger against white people. Hints the controversial. This movie tries not to be one of those. The ending is all about healing but still you can hear the be proud of your race and be fearful of the others undertones in the film. Still, there is so much from Oscar Micheaux that remains lost. I hope that as the years go on, we'll be able to uncover more of his work. It's still a wonderful resource for those of us who are old film buffs and also interested in the African American contribution to cinema. Still the film is so hard to get through. Within our gates is the story of an educated Southern black school teacher Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer). She looks for a few days escape from the South after being abandoned by her lover. She plans to visit her cousin Alma in the North. While there, she is in effort to raise money for her near bankrupt school. The movie use flashbacks to point out the faults of the nation using the Landry's family as example. Its dark scenes of lynching, murder and rape attempt that is hard to watch. It does deconstructed the white ideology that lynching was to punish black men for alleged sexual assaults against white women, but also feed the fears the idea that all black women get rape by white men which isn't true. The utilization of cross cutting techniques in the melodramatic form with the rape and lynching is powerful. The ending twist is a bit shocking, but well written. Often regarded in the context of Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, which had appeared five years earlier. Critics have considered Micheaux's project as a response to Griffith to the point, that Micheaux took the film's name from a line in Griffith's film. It suggested that people should not harm one another, lest they be harmed. Micheaux's idea mirrors Griffith ending of North and South marriage plot in the sense that rather than all white reunion, Michaeux's film ends with a united sophisticated African American nation. Micheaux didn't blame only whites for the poverty of rural blacks, but criticized African Americans who helped to perpetuate their condition for personal gain that Griffith's movie fail to show. While Griffith portrayed black men largely as humorous objects or dim witted caricatures. Micheaux use dialect in order to be derogatory but to express the desire of a poor uneducated black man to provide his children with the means to a better life than his own. Many whites believed that African Americans were too lazy or stupid to want an education at the time. Michaeux was still wrong in portraying light skinned blacks as well educated man. He use them to represent the African American race in Dr. Vivian. While he portray dark skinned as dumb or corrupt people like in Efrem. Michaeux did anger black churches at the time due to his mocking of them with the character of Old Ned, an Uncle Tom type character. Micheaux viewed traditional black religiosity and the men who believe its dogma as dangerous to the freedom and advancement of African Americans. No matter what the controversial, it's a good movie from the Harlem Renaissance era. Give it a watch.
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Within Our Gates
jboothmillard4 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I first found this silent film listed in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, then available through the BFI (British Film Industry), I was always going to watch it, especially with the facts I read about it. Basically young African-American woman Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer) is visiting her cousin Alma Prichard (Flo Clements) in the north, where there is less racial prejudice compared to the deep south and her home town of Piney Woods. Sylvia is awaiting the return of her fiancé, Conrad Drebert (James D. Ruffin), so that they can marry, Alma also loves Conrad, and would like Sylvia to marry her brother-in-law, gambler and criminal Larry (Jack Chenault). Alma creates a compromising situation for when Conrad returns, he subsequently leaves for Brazil, abandoning Sylvia, while Larr murders a man during a poker game, a disheartened Sylvia returns to Piney Woods. Sylvia meets minister Reverand Jacobs, who runs the overcrowded Piney Woods School, a rural school for black children, he is struggling to cope with the small amount the state offer to give black children an education and the school faces closure, so Sylvia volunteers to try and raise $5,000. Sylvia has little success returning to the north, including her purse being stolen, but then she meets Dr. V. Vivian (Charles D. Lucas), who helps her recover her purse. Sylvia saves the life of a child playing in the street, almost being hit by a car herself, the car owner is wealthy philanthropist Mrs. Elena Warwick, who is sympathetic to her quest and offers to donate the $5,000 she needs. Her bigoted Southern friend Mrs. Geraldine Stratton (Bernice Ladd) tries to discourage her, but Mrs. Warwick increases the donation to $50,000, with her job done Sylvia makes her way back to Piney Woods. Dr. Vivian has fallen in love with Sylvia, he goes to Alma to try and find her, and through flashbacks, she tells him all about her shocking past. Sylvia was adopted and raised by a poor black family, her adoptive father Philip Gridlestone (Ralph Johnson) was accused of the murder of an unpopular but wealthy white man, because of this the family was lynched, Sylvia escaped and was almost raped, Gridlestone's brother discovered Sylvia was the mixed-race daughter of Philip. After hearing about her life, Dr. Vivian meets with Sylvia, he encourages her to be proud of the contributions African Americans have made to her country, he professes his love for her, and the film ends with them getting married. Also starring William Smith as Detective Philip Gentry, William Stark as Jasper Landry, Mattie Edwards as Jasper's Wife, E.G. Tatum as Efram - Gridlestone's Servant, Grant Edwards as Emil Landry and Grant Gorman as Armand Gridlestone. This film was made five years after the release of The Birth of a Nation, this film is seen as a response to it, it is one of the earliest surviving films made by an African American filmmaker, it is certainly a landmark and controversial black-and- white film, with its depiction of racial violence and segregation, and historically important, a shocking but most interesting silent drama. Good!
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An Important Accomplishment
CJBx719 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
WITHIN OUR GATES (1920) is now known as the first surviving movie by an African-American director, Oscar Micheaux. Micheaux was a pioneering filmmaker, not so much in a technical or aesthetic way, but in his aim to present black people realistically and honestly. WITHIN OUR GATES shows him taking on the issue of education for blacks and the various degrees of racism and prejudice both outside and inside the black community. Following is my review.

SCRIPT: The story deals with the efforts of Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer) to secure funding for a black school in a small Southern town, as well as her romantic trials and tribulations. The movie features an array of story lines and supporting characters, some of whom curry favor with whites by putting their own race down and discouraging black involvement in politics (such as Preacher Ned), or by snitching (the servant Efrem). At the end of the story we learn about Sylvia's family life and how her happy home was torn apart by racism and violence. The script's attempts to juggle multiple story lines are not entirely successful, as the film tends to linger on some segments longer than others and some loose ends aren't completely tied up. Nevertheless, it is commendable for portraying the different aspects of life in the black community. SCORE: 7/10

ACTING: The quality of the acting varies, especially for modern viewers unaccustomed to the dramatic displays common in silent movies. Evelyn Preer anchors the film with what is, for the most part, a sensitive and controlled performance which shows charm and evokes sympathy for her plight. Towards the end some of her reactions tend toward the melodramatic, but not really much more so than what was common for the period. James Ruffin (as Sylvia's fiancée) and Flo Clements (as her "friend", Alma) also imbue their performances with realism. Some of the supporting characters (too numerous for me to discuss individually) don't fare as well. The "stooge" characters (Efrem and Preacher Ned) are portrayed rather broadly as buffoons with virtually no redeeming qualities. EG Tatum (Efrem) in particular does a lot of bug-eyed reactions and hysterical laughter that must have come straight out of minstrelsy. SCORE: 7/10

CINEMATOGRAPHY/PRODUCTION: The cinematography is fairly competent, especially considering that Micheaux was almost certainly working with a limited budget. The shots tend toward the static but are well framed. There are some good location shots. The film could perhaps benefit from tighter editing in some spots, but the ending sequence shows a good command of cross cutting for dramatic effect. (Incidentally, this ending sequence cuts between a lynching and a rape attempt by a white character, and serves as a rebuttal to the virulently racist ending of BIRTH OF A NATION 5 years earlier). SCORE: 7/10

SUMMARY: WITHIN OUR GATES is a very important movie for many reasons. It stands as the earliest surviving feature film that attempts to show African-Americans with dignity and realism. It may strike modern viewers as didactic, but that is completely appropriate considering the time in which it was made and the subject matter. The story tends to wander, and could benefit from perhaps shaving off a character or two, but the subject matter keeps it interesting. The acting varies in quality from one player to the next, but the best performances are handled with sincerity and naturalism. The cinematography and production are good considering the budget limitations that Micheaux surely had to deal with. WITHIN OUR GATES is an important accomplishment and merits viewing today. TOTAL SCORE: 7/10
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Within Our Gates review
JoeytheBrit29 June 2020
The earliest surviving movie from pioneering African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux bears all the hallmarks of a film made by a man whose ability is not equal to his vision. He has a powerful story to tell, but clutters it up with far too many characters which results in a narrative that simply doesn't flow and a message that is fatally diluted.
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An early view of race relations
craig_smith98 January 2002
This is the earliest surviving movie made by a African-American director. The acting is poor and the story meanders. However it does tell a story about race in the early 1900's. Even then it was recognized that education was the key for blacks to move ahead. However, getting the funds for schools was a different story. The movie has rape and a lynching. There is a black minister who preaches that whites and blacks are not equal and cannot get together (though he doesn't believe that himself). As a movie it leaves a lot to be desired. As a chance to see an early black film and a chance to see how some people (there are two white women who have very differing views) viewed race it is worth seeing once.
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An unique but also simply a great movie for its time.
Boba_Fett113824 September 2010
It's funny how this movie is mostly being known for just one thing; the fact that it's the oldest, still existing movie, (that we know off of course) that got directed by an Afro-American film-makers. But this of course in itself is really not saying much about the actual movie. It doesn't say anything about its quality or about its pioneering innovativeness.

Still fact remains that this is an interesting piece of history. It's a account on film, on how life for the average colored person was back in the early 20th century. It's not only that but it's also a view on how life for them should be like. A life without racism and a life in which they get treated equally, also by the tight high upper white class. It's purely a movie shot from the black man and woman's perspective, which makes this movie an unique watch really.

It's a movie with mostly a cast consisting out of Afro-American actors. One thing that strike me about this was that those actors on film did not looked Afro-American at all. You would expect in a black & white person that an Afro-American would appear as black but in fact their faces and bodies often look more white than black, on film. Perhaps this is also part of the reason why film-makers in the old days every so often used blackface-actors, rather than actual Afro-Americans for their movies. A lot of directors from the early days of cinema get now day slammed for not using actual Afro-Americans in their movies but perhaps there were more and other, more movie-technical, reasons for this, rather than simply being racist toward our colored fellow man or woman.

As for the actual movie itself; it's pretty good. It has a great story, that of course was considered to be quite controversial for its time, due to its subject and the fact that it got made by an almost entirely black cast and crew. It showed how things really were at the time, for the Afro-Americans but it's also a movie with a message and one with hope for better times, that in reality wouldn't come for the Afro-Americans until decades later.

Considering the fact that this movie didn't got made with the backing of studio's or big money spenders and experienced people within the business, the movie is all the more impressive to view. It's simple a well made and nicely constructed film, that keeps its story flowing really well at all times and keeps the movie a good and interesting one to watch.

A surprisingly good early 'blackcinema' movie.


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The earliest surviving film from a black director
Jaime N. Christley30 August 1999
"Within Our Gates" is of enormous historical interest as a remnant of a brief period in the early twenties/late teens when there were (due to segregation laws) films made and distributed specifically by and for African-Americans. In this way, it has most deservedly been chosen for placement in the National Film Registry.

By today's standards the film is as silly, half-baked, and paper-thin as something by a high school playwright. The performances are pretty atrocious, but for the most part they are at home with the style of acting that pervaded films of the silent era.

It dealt with provocative issues of the time, such as overt racism, lynching, and the sorry state of education for the black community. Eighty years later we may have done a bit of shoring up, but no one's foolish enough to say that we're doing any better today. One positive thing that can be said is that a film dealing with these subjects today is encouraged, whereas in 1920 "Within Our Gates" was crushed by disapproving educators, legislators, and spineless distributors.
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Outstanding and eye-opening, even with imperfections
I_Ailurophile18 January 2022
Before the film even begins, 'Within our gates' is a bit of a marvel. Seemingly the oldest surviving film directed by an African American in an industry that was (...and remains) predominantly white, the picture was nearly lost in the memory hole of time. Available background information indicates that the restoration archived by the Library of Congress is still only an approximation of Oscar Micheaux's original work. Moreover, the title claims a predominantly black cast, and the practical limitations under which the production operated make it somewhat extraordinary that the movie ever came into being in the first place. Without even considering the content - from a cultural and historical standpoint, 'Within our gates' is frankly essential.

Any regard for the film must necessarily take into account the difficulties of its completion and unfortunate shortcomings of its restoration. With that said, on the face of things, the feature does suffer from what feels like a staggered and stilted presentation. Each subsequent scene builds a cohesive narrative, yet the frequency of cuts between shots, scenes, and intertitles makes for a bit of a rough, choppy appearance, and a sense that every element is indelicately forced. Plot development is less than smooth or natural, and given the number of characters that are introduced, and the many ideas broached in the narrative, the viewing experience is unquestionably one that requires active, attentive, and indeed forgiving engagement.

Still, with all that said - provided one can abide the regrettable deficiencies, there is much to admire about 'Within the gates.' Micheaux approaches the topic of race relations with a blunt and unfiltered sensibility that squarely opposes the broad bigotry in society, and white supremacy as a personal and institutional prejudice, and that was sometimes mirrored in the uglier side of early cinema. The hypocrisy and indifference in northern cities is examined as much as the brutality of southern lands, and the cruel selfishness and betrayal of well-positioned black individuals as much as the utmost ignorance and iniquity of whites. 'Within our gates' champions education, advancement, and equality within a story that does not hold back from illustrating the dire obstacles and obstinacy that inhibit such progress, including violence not least of all. It's a narrative, and a movie, that if made in 2021 would be a beacon of passionate defiance in a world that's still all too complacent with the tawdry racism rampant throughout society - and there can be no doubt that in 1920, it signified a still greater turnabout.

Even keeping in mind and putting aside the issues thrust upon the film in light of its production and restoration, it's not unblemished. The inelegance in the presentation can surely be chalked up at least in part to not just its rediscovery decades later, but also imperfections in Micheaux's craft - writing, direction, and editing. For all the value herein, I'd be lying if I said it weren't a bumpy ride. To be fair, however, this was only Micheaux's second picture - and considering the remarkable circumstances and context in which this was made in the first place, it's easy enough to both acknowledge and largely overlook the weaknesses as they present. The strengths far outshine and outweigh the disadvantages, and the result is a feature that was both of and ahead of its time - and an important watch for all, for nigh every possible reason.

Yes, some of the subject matter is difficult; obvious content warnings abound for racism, and racial violence including lynching. And any viewer who can't parse the idiosyncrasies of the silent era, or handle a less than pristine exhibition, will likely be put off by what we see here. Yet the worth far exceeds the burden, and I'm hard-pressed not to recommend this to just about anyone. Wherever you can watch it, 'Within our gates' is a substantial, imperative classic of cinema that even 100 years later deserves far greater recognition.
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The Last Third is the best third
thisglimpse-18 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I was pretty lost amongst all the jealous sisters and jilted lovers and plot of intrigue and deceit... until the last third - the flashback, which was a much simpler, more tragic story.

The ending was awful - "he stopped trying to rape her when he discovered she was his daughter" but I wonder if the filmmaker wasn't stretching to make a point that the benevolent white people and the violent white people are the same people.
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Only of historical and sociological interest
Reiher8 September 1998
Primitively filmed, with a fractured and meandering plot. Micheaux gives little evidence here of having much directorial ability. It's hard to imagine anyone actually enjoying watching it.

Of historical and sociological interest as an early black-made film, but compares poorly to professional-quality films of that era from the US and elsewhere. Of some value because it presumably shows how educated blacks of that era looked at themselves.
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A disturbing American-African dilemma just couldn't have got better cinematic version than this in 1920.
SAMTHEBESTEST16 January 2021
Within Our Gates (1920) : Brief Review -

A disturbing American-African dilemma just couldn't have got better cinematic version than this in 1920. Well, i am writing this review in 2021 when hardly few filmmakers have been able to dare making such a disturbing film on racism and then this thought blows my mind that Oscar Micheaux made straightforward and hard-hitting film like Within Our Gates in 1920. I couldn't have imagined it in dream even and then i get to see such film in real life today.. Appalled. The film is about an educated black woman who dedicates herself to helping a near bankrupt school for impoverished black youths after being wrongly abandoned by her boyfriend. Her past is even more horrible to see when you know her story and how racism had been spoiling the humanity in those days. These so many things happens too quickly in the small runtime of about 80 minutes. The pacing is perfect and the line-up of events is amazingly done. There are couple of mistakes though, such as her love Life being unexplored and the linear equation dragged by some useless supporting characters. But the mind-boggling thing is the theme and how hard it hits. With an uncompromised vision of American-African director himself, Within Our Gates becomes one of the most socially and negatively powerful film of its time and arguably of all time too. Evelyn Preer, Floy Clements and Jack Chenaults are impressive and the rest are nothing but to be finely overlooked. The entire credit of the film's unimaginable impact over the years and especially for its time goes to Oscar Micheaux for writing and directing such a gutsy film which gave a tight slap on the face of racists. Love for the country can never be judged by the colour of person and that's what Within Our Gates has successfully taught to its generation.

RATING - 7/10*

By - #samthebestest
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Within our Gates
marmar-697803 December 2020
Within Our Gates was a first film in history directed by a black director and just for that this film deserves its place in history and it give inspiration and courage to many other future directors of same culture to stood up for themselfs and do what they love to do and in this case this is making films.Story in this film was like i said very inspiring and it showed how life was for a different people back then and how they were struggeling to survive in a tough world.Characters were fine and they surved its purpose.Within Our Gates was a good film for a first time in history
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Despite the misinformation spewing forth from . . .
tadpole-596-91825610 December 2019
Warning: Spoilers
. . . TV Talking Heads (who apparently never bother to view the films that they introduce all the way through), WITHIN OUR GATES is inherently FAR MORE Racist than BIRTH OF A NATION (1915). Though the earlier flick distorts history in order to comply with Texas Public Education Standards, WITHIN OUR GATES portrays an entire Minority Group as being in the thralls of a seemingly congenital Khaki-on-Khaki Crime Wave. The key players sharing this portion of the rainbow's palette range from snitches, back-stabbers and purse snatchers to character assassins, thugs and murderers. It's hard to single out anyone among this mottled crew as a role model, or even someone that you'd want sitting on the stool next to you at a White Castle. If a Shaker filmmaker released a feature alleging this sort of infighting, perfidy, and general environment of felonious assault among his Shaker brethren, he'd immediately get neutered, banned, ex-communicated and shunned. Whether or not the author of WITHIN OUR GATES was similarly ostracized is left as an open question. However, the fact remains that EVERY copy of this Racist Rant was soon destroyed in its home country, and only one print survived in some European enclave that could not distinguish between Art and Trash.
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The Dawn of Black Cinema in America
PCC092128 May 2021
In the version of the film I saw, the beginning title card explains the restoration done on the film in 1993 and also has the original release year as being 1919, instead of 1920. Either way, 1920 was the year women achieved the right to vote in America, so it helps make this story even more interesting, because a large part of the plot revolves around black suffrage. Most free black men in the north were able to vote after the Civil War, but those rights were easily taken away if the law needed to. Along with women suffrage, these rights were not totally solid by 1920 and it would take another 45 years until everyone could vote, with the release of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, so that is something to think about while watching this movie.

What is really special about this film is it is the earliest, known, feature length film, that was directed by a black director, Oscar Micheaux. It is the beginning of black cinema and it stars, up and coming, acclaimed, black actress, Evelyn Preer as Sylvia. While visiting her cousin Alma in the north, Sylvia awaits news from her fiancé Conrad. Alma develops a jealousy of Sylvia's happiness and hatches a plan to see if she can ruin Sylvia's relationship. Conrad returns and catches Sylvia at a bad time with another guy and leaves her.

Another plot line begins to develop once Sylvia returns to the south and has to help the local school raise $5000.00 before it's shut down forever. The movie has a lot of interesting characters. It also gives you a historical background of how things were a hundred years ago. They kept using flashbacks in order to tell a different story from whoever's point of view was giving the story. This part is most evident when a young black worker is framed for killing a rich, white businessman.

No matter what side of the issue everybody was on, one thing was clear, everybody loves their country, America. One black character, Dr. Vivian, explains how their people fought for America, in Cuba, Mexico and France. It shows that America itself is loved, but we have a lot of negative, bad issues, that we are still trying to fix, even today, 100 years later. It does have some exciting moments of action, fights and unfortunately some mob justice.

The film shows anger and distrust, not just between black and whites, but between blacks and blacks and whites and whites. There was struggle at every corner of this issue. On one side was a black minister, who connivingly, makes a deal with the white politicians to rally against the black right to vote, by paying him off. He also tells his followers that black men will get into heaven and white men won't, just so he can collect more money from the donation pot. On the other side was Sylvia trying to raise money for the school and being blocked by a racist, rich, white woman, who was trying to talk Sylvia's white donor out of giving her money.

It's a very sobering film, it doesn't hold back and it does give you insight into a pivotal part of history. Micheaux does a good job of crafting an interesting story, covering a wide range of issues and situations. The film has a good pace to it and it shows, even more, how much the art of film-making has grown during its youthful first 25 years. It also has huge significance as being the start of black feature length cinema.

8.2 (B MyGrade) = 8 IMDB.
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