#8 Within Our Gates (1920)

Do you know what filmmaker was influenced the most by D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation? Oscar Micheaux. But not in the way that other filmmakers feel influenced. Oscar Micheaux made his film “Within Our Gates” to show audiences the truth about what black people really are like in contemporary American society. That black people can fit into society without having to be someone’s maid or servant. That they’re people too. Oscar Micheaux wanted to set the record straight on how white people view black people and to bring his own perspective to the mainstream audience. Write in the comments how you feel about Micheaux using the film media to take a stand and if this mission was accomplished?

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This film is about a black woman who tries to raise money for black kids to get an education but is forced to open up about her tough childhood that could be a threat to her African-American identity. I liked how this film brought awareness to the horrors that black people went through during the 20s such as lynching and underfunding for black students to be educated. Write in the comments what black people were going through in the 1920s and you’ll understand why this was a story that needed to be seen and heard. That the difference between blacks and whites is not in who they are as people but how they are viewed by society and the experiences they face. These people had respectable jobs that didn’t involve waiting on people and they were portrayed as educational.  

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Critics were afraid that this film would bring about race riots so it was banned in certain areas like Omaha. Here is how Oscar Micheaux’s film is different than Birth of a Nation- this film has no white-face, no stereotypes, and no negativity. It is merely Micheaux telling his audience that he is acting as the “New Negro” in that he refuses to be silent about the serious issues that black people face and we are just telling the story from our side in its honest light. Write in if you agree or disagree this film has made an impact for the better or worse.

So I recommend seeing this film considering how a rarity it is to see an all-black cast that’s seen as everyday members of society instead of someone’s slave or maid. That there are no other films like this that have still made an impact today.

Here is one of the first race films made and please comment your opinion of the film: 

#7 Broken Blossoms (1919)

This is one of the most heartbreaking romantic films I’ve seen. D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms is about a young girl who falls for The Yellow Man, a Buddhist, and takes sanctuary in his home to escape her abusive father. Even though Lillian Gish was only in her twenties when she played The White Blossom, she perfectly played the innocence and gentle nature of an impoverished girl. If The Academy Awards were invented back then instead of ten years later, it certainly would have gone to Lillian Gish, D.W. Griffith’s frequent first choice. I know this film is known for the closet scene but the scene where she plays with her doll is what stood out to me the most about Lillian Gish’s performance. The way she is with that doll as if she was a real baby. How naturing and delicate she is and how she would have made a great mother. Your thoughts on that?

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While D.W. Griffith’s previous films have been known for being grand and epic, this is the one film that’s more theatrical with simply-built sets and told in a real depiction of how tragic domestic abuse can be. The chemistry between the two leads caught my attention how they have a natural bond with each other that doesn’t need to be told through words but a simple look like this:

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This is one of the first films to show an inter-racial couple (even though The Yellow Man is really played by an American). Write in the comments how you feel about that. I was also impressed with the way it told the child abuse plot. The fact that this young girl is so beautiful and would never hurt a fly to deal with evil that lurks her at every corner. That’s what makes the story powerful in that this Buddhist is her safe haven where she’s protected. When The White Blossom locks herself in that closet, she feels like a frightened, tortured animal but she still tries to fight to survive. You feel helpless just being a witness to this. 

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Watch D.W. Giffith’s most poet and romantic film: 

#6 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is personally one of my favorite silent films. I can see it a million times to just to entertain my eyes with its spooky, demented, twisted, sharp-pointed sets. It really does make you feel like you stepped into a classic gothic painting… or a Tim Burton movie. Write in the comments if you believe Tim Burton was inspired by German Expressionism. What other directors were?

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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is about a man telling the story of a psychotic hypnotist who uses a man in a sleeping state to commit murders. This was a film where I had no idea where the direction was going and the result turned out to be very clever. I also like the use of the different colored tints. Especially the blue tint since it made the designs pop out more. 

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This film is considered the first true horror film. This film takes a whodunit plot and turns it into much more. If only there were more films today that were, or at least use, expressionism instead of terrible green screen effects for their sets. German writer Siegfried Kracauer believed that this film predicted the holocaust occurring. It definitely does a good job showing the controversy of authorityWrite in the comments if you believe this to be true or far-fetched. There are just no words to describe the brilliance of this film.

Entertain yourself with the first true horror film and please comment your thoughts. If you have a Netflix, I recommend looking there first considering the quality is higher: