From Oscar Micheaux's drama 'Within Our Gates' (1920).
Sunday, Feb. 5 takes me down to Davis Square in Somerville, Mass., for the relaunch of the Somerville Theatre's 'Silents, Please!' series.
I'll accompany 'Within Our Gates' (1920), a "race drama" directed by Oscar Micheaux that's being screened in honor of Black History Month.
Showtime is 2 p.m. More details about the film and the full 'Silents, Please!' schedule are included in a press release pasted in below.
'Within Our Gates' is hailed as something of a breakthrough: it was the first U.S. feature-length film directed by an African-American.
The movie was intended for "Black Only" movie theaters that flourished in certain parts of the U.S. during the Jim Crow era.
Much of the product for that market was produced on shoestring budgets by small companies (many in Florida) that often vanished when the rent came due.
As a young Black filmmaker, race movies were the only outlet open to Micheaux. Despite the limitations, he was aiming for something more, as seen in 'Within Our Gates.'
Unusual for its time, the film tackles head-on the racism that was pervasive in the U.S. at the time.
A hundred years later, have things changed all that much? See the film, and decide for yourself.
The film will be shown via a 35mm print on loan from our friends at the Library of Congress.
In shipping 'Within Our Gates,' the LOC included a 35mm print of a second film that we didn't specifically request.
It's 'The Other Woman's Story' (1925), a seemingly routine courtroom drama with absolutely nothing to do with Black History Month.
But then, as Paul Harvey used to say, there's "...the rest of the story."
Turns out one of the lead actresses in 'The Other Woman's Story,' Helen Lee Worthing would shortly become infamous for...marrying an African-American!
This was at a time when interracial marriage was actually against the law in California and many other states.
The resulting scandal and ongoing furor in the press not only caused the marriage to break down, but led to Worthing's involuntary commitment to an insane asylum a few years later. She died in 1948, at the young age of 52.
I won't say any more in case the theater does run the film. I hope they do. It's a rare chance to see one of Helen Lee Worthing's few surviving films—and I've never had a chance to do music for it before.
Cross your fingers!
* * * A scene from 'Within Our Gates' (1920).
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 25, 2023 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEContact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • email@example.com
'Within Our Gates' on Sunday, Feb. 5 opens Somerville Theatre's 2023 'Silents Please!' series
First feature-length film directed by African-American to be screened in 35mm with live music to honor Black History Month
SOMERVILLE, Mass.—They're back where they belong: on the big screen.
motion pictures from Hollywood's early days, shown using 35mm prints
and accompanied with live music, mark the return of the Somerville
Theatre's 'Silents, Please,' a long-running series at the Davis Square
The 2023 line-up kicks off on Sunday, Feb. 5 at 2
p.m. with a screening of 'Within Our Gates' (1920), the first U.S.
feature-length film to be directed by an African-American, Oscar
The movie—a ground-breaking drama
that deals directly with racism in the U.S. as experienced a century
ago—will be shown in honor of Black History Month.
The plot features an African-American woman
who goes North in an effort to raise money for a rural school in the
Deep South for poor black children. Her romance with a Black doctor
eventually leads to revelations about her family's past and her own
mixed-race, European ancestry.
Tickets $16; seniors/children $12. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.somervilletheatre.com
or call the box office at (617) 625-5700.
'Within Our Gates' was produced at a time when the mainstream Hollywood film industry was shut off to Black Americans.
Micheaux (at left, in a formal portrait) was able to self-produce 'Within Our Gates' on a shoestring budget and outside the studio system.
Our Gates' portrays the contemporary racial situation in the U.S.
during the early 20th century—the years of Jim Crow, the revival of the
Ku Klux Klan, and the Great Migration of Blacks to cities of the North
At the time, it was part of
an emerging genre known as "race films"—pictures intended for segregated
Black-only movie theaters that existed primarily in the U.S. south from
the 1920s until after World War II.
The film portrays racial violence
under white supremacy. It was produced, written and directed by
'Within Our Gates' stirred up considerable controversy
during its original release because it contained a scene in which a Black man is lynched by a white mob.
At first the film, which
eventually had its premiere in Chicago, was rejected by the Chicago
Board of Movie Censors who were afraid the movie could possibly inspire a
race riot. However, a second screening of the film by the press,
Chicago politicians, and prominent members of the Black community
convinced the Censors to grant the film a permit since it addressed
horrendous conditions that needed reform.
Not everyone agreed
with this assessment, however, and some of the most vigorous protests
against the film came from Black activists.
Not surprisingly, white
theatre owners in the south who catered to Black patronage were also
offended by 'Within Our Gates' and refused to book it. One theatre owner
in Shreveport, La., admitted "it was a very dangerous picture to show
in the south" and his comment was typical for the region.
no stranger to controversy, refused to compromise his material despite
being locked out of numerous distribution channels and went on to tackle
other unpopular but equally topical problems in films like 'God's
Stepchildren' (1938), in which a light-skinned African-American tries to
pass for Caucasian, and 'Birthright' (1939), the story of a Black
Harvard graduate who encounters opposition from both whites and members
of his own race.
While Micheaux was well aware that audiences
wanted to be entertained, he also felt it was his duty to confront
challenging issues that would, in his words, "leave an impression" on
Michaeux died in 1951 at age 67, having independently
produced a total of 44 films and earned a reputation as the most
successful African-American filmmaker of the first half of the 20th
For many years, 'Within Our Gates' was regarded as a
lost film. However, a single copy turned up in Spain in the 1970s. The
version to be screened at the Somerville Theatre descends from this single
The precursor to Black History Month was Black
History Week, established in 1926 to coincide with the birthday of
Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12 and Frederick Douglass on Feb. 14. Primary
emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the
history of American Blacks in the nation's public schools.
1976, the expansion to Black History Month was officially recognized by
the U.S. government. At the time, President Gerald Ford urged Americans
to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected
accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout
Following 'Within Our Gates,'
the 'Silents, Please!' schedule features a broad range of titles, from
well-known classics to obscure films rarely seen since their release,
which in some cases was more than a century ago.
are double bills on a common theme, such as a July program saluting
'Canada Day' with two films set in the Canadian West.
All films in the series will be shown using 35mm prints, with most on loan from the U.S. Library of Congress.
A roster of upcoming films includes:
• Sunday, March 5, 2023, 2 p.m.: 'Annie Laurie
' (1927) starring Lillian Gish and 'Cinderella
(1914). Celebrate Women's History Month with a double feature of two films
featuring leading ladies of early Hollywood. 'Annie Laurie' (1927), a
rarely-screened MGM epic about warring Scottish clans, features
silent-era megastar Lillian Gish as leading lady while legions of men in
kilts do battle. Plus, an early adaptation of 'Cinderella' (1914)
starring film industry pioneer Mary Pickford.
• Sunday, May 7,
2023, 2 p.m.: Buster Keaton 'Boats and Trains' Double Feature! Two
Keaton classics in which Buster creates large-scale comedy with big
machines. In 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.
' (1928), Buster plays the
effete college-educated son of a rough-hewn riverboat captain who must
help his father fight a domineering businessman—who just happens to be
the father of Buster's girlfriend. In 'The General
Buster's Civil War-era masterpiece tells the story of a Confederate
railroad engineer whose train is hijacked by Northern spies.
Sunday, July 9, 2023, 2 p.m.: Salute to Canada Double Feature! To mark
"Canada Day" (July 1), we salute our neighbors with a double helping of
vintage cinema set north of the border. In 'Mantrap
silent-era "It" girl Clara Bow stars in a battle-of-the-sexes comedy
about a big city divorce lawyer hoping to get away from it all at a
Canadian wilderness retreat. 'The Canadian
' (1926) stars Thomas
Meighan in the tale of a pioneering couple homesteading in Alberta,
where they battle bad weather and financial woes.
• Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, 2 p.m.: 'The Fire Brigade
(1926). MGM’s blockbuster production stars Charles Ray as the youngest in
a long line of fearless Irish American firefighters. Things get complicated when he falls in love
with the daughter (May McEvoy) of a crooked building contractor.
Spectacular fire sequences with hand-colored effects included in this
recent Library of Congress restoration.
• Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, 2 p.m.: 'The Big Parade
(1925) starring John Gilbert, Renée Adoree. We salute Veterans Day with
this sweeping saga about U.S. doughboys signing up and shipping off to
France in 1917, where they face experiences that will change their lives
forever—if they return. MGM blockbuster directed by King Vidor; one of
the biggest box office triumphs of the silent era.
Gates' (1920), a silent drama directed by Oscar Micheaux, will be shown
in 35mm with live music on Sunday, Feb. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville
Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.
Tickets $16; seniors/children $12.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.somervilletheatre.com
or call the box office at (617) 625-5700.