Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates is the oldest surviving feature film directed by an African-American. This alone qualifies it for inclusion on the list as a historical relic, and well to do so, because there’s very little else about this film that qualifies it as a must see. The film is very splintered in its execution, and will likely lose anyone who doesn’t pay it the strictest attention. Unfortunately for me, it was barely halfway through when I realized I really didn’t care what was going on.
As befitting the director, the film uses black actors as more than just racial stereotypes of the times, which was a welcome refresher. Also being essentially a black film, the film deals with racism and ethnic issues pertaining to the African-American people as its main selling point, so if that isn’t your thing this film will do little to change your mind. I think the most annoying part was how the whole thing just sort of melded together; you couldn’t tell who was who, since there were no distinguishing characteristics to make you remember which character was which. The film just sort of milled around with its own business, going to places and doing things without a right mind as to why or for what purpose. There was a story, but what there wasn’t was a narrative, and the film became very taxing to watch as a result.
This is one that is very hard to recommend to any except those interested in a bit of film history, as aside from its merits as the earliest surviving black film there is very little here to warrant a look-through by any sort of general audience. It’s a racially charged film, and one that in some ways deserves to be, so if Birth of a Nation ruffled your feathers, this probably will for like, though not entirely similar, reasons. All in all, it tried, and it garners an A for effort, but not for the final product, which was sloppy in almost every way.
Arbitrary Rating: 5/10