Monday, March 23, 2009

79) Within Our Gates (1920)

79) Within Our Gates (1920) Dir: Oscar Micheaux Date Released: January 1920 Date Seen: March 23rd, 2009 Rating: 2/5

Like D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915), the film writer/director Oscar Micheaux was responding to, Within Our Gates (192) is most remarkable for its portrayal of volatile racial politics. There the similarities end: unlike Birth, Gates can only be remembered as an echo or a counter-proposition rather than a stand-alone treatise or even racially-charged melodrama. Though it appears to boast a relatively more nuanced portrayals of blacks betraying their fellow men, Micheaux has based his scapegoats on caricatures that are no less clich├ęd and offensive, like Efram (E.G. Tatum), the giggling servant so eager to please that he’ll tattle on anyone in hopes of rubbing shoulders with the whites that would lynch him without batting an eyelash. Even Reverend Wilson Jacobs (S.T.Jacks), the man of faith that sells his people out for the sake of maintaining an illusory status quo, jitters about his pulpit like a palsied Sambo. 

This makes Larry Prichard (Jack Chenault), the smooth-talking, well-dressed villain-about-town, the most believable baddie in the film. This is especially sad considering how much stress is put on “Divine justice,” or assigning blame to the bad blacks and one or two wrong-doing whites that deserve punishment for their ignorance. Larry “the Leech” does everything wrong, from murder to bribery, a man that doesn’t respect the values of hard work and education. These wrongs apparently supersede the humane value of forgiveness and the storytelling boon of nuance but hey, an eye for an eye, right?

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