Birthright (1939)

OSCAR MICHEAUX

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

USA, 1939.  .  Screenplay by Oscar Micheaux, based on the novel by . Cinematography by .  Produced by Oscar Micheaux, .

One of Oscar Micheaux’s finest and most poignant works.  A Harvard graduate returns to his home town with the prospect of giving his fellow black citizens the opportunity to get ahead in life the way he has been able to, planning to turn a property he has purchased into a post-secondary school.  No surprise the dishonest white overlords in town don’t want to see him succeed, but what is more devastating in this film, which Micheaux remade from his own silent version in 1924, is the infighting and betrayals that our protagonist suffers from within his own community.  Not one to indulge only in negative finger-pointing, however, Micheaux includes magnificent opportunities for musical performers to bust out some incredible numbers amid the backbiting and melodrama.  Like many of the long ignored auteur’s works, this brief but rich film has suffered the ravages of time thanks to his oeuvre having been overlooked for so long, but there is plenty of quality that still shines through the cracked film stock and incomplete sound track.

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