Oscar Micheaux was a black homesteader born to Calvin and Belle Micheaux. Like many other Black homesteaders, they were born enslaved in Kentucky. However, Oscar was born in 1884 in Illinois after they crossed the Ohio River. Eventually, the family would acquire an 80-acre farm where they grew wheat and corn.
Oscar began journaling his experiences as a homesteader to cope with his difficulties. His writings were a blend of fiction and biography intended to portray the story of his struggle with the land and conquering of it. He quickly completed a full-length novel, fittingly named The Conquest. Next, he began selling the book to his friends and neighbors throughout the region. This new venture quickly spawned a second novel, The Homesteader. His self-published novels were marginally successful, but they piqued the interest of a production firm interested in adapting them into a film.
He became the first known African-American filmmaker and director when he translated his story into a film in 1919. Micheaux’s career was begun by The Homesteader, which is considered a “lost film.” He made more than 40 pictures over 30 years, and the Library of Congress and the National Film Registry have both saved his work. His works drew attention to racism and racial inequity and attempted to combat them. In Micheaux’s films, black actors depicted doctors, businessmen, detectives, and lawyers. His films gave audiences a glimpse into black life and the African-American viewpoint on race.