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Eve Mason, a very light-skinned negro, leaves Selma, Alabama for the northwest town of Oristown to occupy the land she inherited from her grandfather. There she meets kindly Hugh Van Allen, who turns out to be her neighbor, and he gives her a lift to her place outside of town. Jefferson Driscoll is another very light-skinned negro who wants to be taken as white, and he hates the negro race because his mother once interfered with his wooing a white girl. Driscoll gets in league with unsavory August Barr, an Indian fakir called Tugi, and horse thieves Bill Stanton and Philip Clark. When Driscoll intercepts a letter for Van Allen showing his land is on an oil field, the group posts notes on Van Allen's tent, threatening his life if he won't sell his land. Van Allen ignores the the notes, which are signed "The Knights of the Black Cross," leaves for town to buy furniture and won't be back for 48 hours. In his absence, the last note is posted, giving him 48 hours to sell. The group, led by...Written by
Arthur Hausner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
One of three, out of twenty-four silent films made by Oscar Micheaux that are known to have survived - although some of this film is missing, the parts are identified by title cards by the restorers. The other two pictures are Body and Soul (1925) and Within Our Gates (1920). See more »
This film is a product of its time period, and may be criticized as being a little creaky or lacking in artistry. On the other hand, all great art has honesty and truth to it, and this one certainly has that, and is also deeply meaningful. Some of the Klan footage and climactic moments are unfortunately lost, but what remains is fantastic. This is the real Klan: hooded riders streaming through the night with torches lit, on their way to carry out their threats of whipping a man and burning his home to the ground because he won't sell the valuable land that it's on. It's a group of terrorists.
Director Oscar Micheaux made the most of a low budget, and his story telling is quite good, switching back and forth between characters and keeping up a good pace. The scenes between Iris Hall and Walker Allen, who become unexpected neighbors when her character sets out to claim inherited land, are not a sweeping romance, but they're strong nonetheless. Him finding her in the woods standing disconsolate before a tree, her dreaming of him in the night, and the two of them in each other's arms, confronting another aspect of race - these are all very nice moments.
Perhaps more importantly, I loved how the film was not one-dimensional, and broached the topic of racism within the community. A man of mixed-race who has passed for white in the film is especially hard on black people regardless of how light-skinned they are, instead of being sympathetic to them. It's like he's made it into the 'club' and wants to make sure no one else does. In this I see some of the brutal honesty Micheaux showed us with some of the characters in 'Within Our Gates,' and also just how arbitrary and ridiculous racism is. If your skin tone is a few shades too dark or you're otherwise detected for black, you're a lower form of being. You sleep in the barn, and you best stay in line or else the Klan may descend upon you.
I see this as an important, powerful film, particularly if you can see it through the lens of a minority at the time it was made. It's sad to me that's average rating as of this writing (3.1 Letterboxd, 5.7 IMDb), is on a par with 'The Birth of a Nation' (2.6 Letterboxd, 6.4 IMDb), even if one factors in Lillian Gish, the production value of a big studio, and the considerably higher budget ($110,000 vs. shoestring) for the latter.
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