Within Our Gates | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Within Our Gates 

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Said to be the earliest extant feature directed by an African-American, this 1920 made-in-Chicago film is of more than historical interest. Though the narrative structure is somewhat choppy, director Oscar Micheaux otherwise demonstrates mastery of the silent form, using supple compositions and careful editing to amplify the characters' emotions in a manner that makes sound seem superfluous. The story, about an African-American woman trying to raise money in Boston to support a black school in the south, is sociologically fascinating, with its broad canvas of characters, from virtuous whites and blacks to white racists and a black preacher who toadies to them; most moving is the way the film argues that black people's real quest was simply to be treated as human. Lost for decades, the film was restored by the Library of Congress in 1993 after a salvageable copy turned up in Spain. Presented by the Silent Film Society of Chicago; organist Jay Warren will provide live accompaniment. 79 min. For more on Micheaux, see Calendar in Section One. Central Park House of Prayer, 3535 W. Roosevelt, Sunday, February 15, 3:00, 773-205-7372.

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