Cast & Crew
James D. Ruffin
Sylvia Landry, a young black woman from the South, visits her Northern cousin, divorcee Alma Prichard. Sylvia's fiancé, Conrad Drebert, writes to her from Brazil, where he is working, to express his joy at their forthcoming wedding and tell her that he will send a telegram with the date of his arrival. When the telegram arrives, though, Alma, who is in love with Conrad, intercepts and destroys it, then connives to have Sylvia be seen with another man when Conrad arrives. When the innocent Sylvia appears, Conrad tries to strangle her, but she is saved by Alma. Conrad storms out and breaks their engagement, much to Alma's satisfaction. In her sorrow, Sylvia takes a job at a Southern school for poor black children that is run by Reverend Wilson Jacobs and his sister Constance. When money troubles hit the establishment, however, Sylvia decides to go to Boston to find a rich benefactor. One day, depressed that she has not met any rich people to take an interest in the school's plight, Sylvia saves a little boy from being struck by the car of rich philanthropist Elena Warwick, and is herself injured. Mrs. Warwick visits her in the hospital and Sylvia tells her that the school must find $5,000 in the next ten days or it will close. Mrs. Warwick is set to give the school the money until she speaks with her friend, Mrs. Geraldine Stratton, a woman who opposes the suffragette movement because it appalls her that black women would also get the vote. Mrs. Stratton convinces the naïve Mrs. Warwick that educating blacks is a mistake, and that they are more suited to being field hands and lumberjacks. She suggests giving the money to Old Ned, a black preacher whose fiery sermons encourage blacks to remain "pure" and untainted by education, culture and politics. When Sylvia returns to collect the school's money from Mrs. Warwick, she is refused, but later, Mrs. Warwick changes her mind and sends the school fifty-thousand dollars. Sylvia returns to Piney Woods, where Jacobs proposes. Sylvia refuses the offer, however, as she has fallen in love with Doctor V. Vivian, a young Boston man deeply committed to improving blacks' social conditions, who had saved her when she was pickpocketed on the street beneath his office window. Meanwhile, Larry, Alma's stepbrother, a notorious gangster whose alias is "The Leech," is fleeing police after killing another gambler in a card game. He escapes to Vicksburg, where he plans to swindle the poor blacks in the Piney Woods region by selling them stolen goods. Larry eventually encounters Sylvia, with whom he was once in love, and tells her that he will reveal her past to the school's administrators if she does not steal the school's money for him. Distraught, Sylvia returns to Boston. Larry, meanwhile, has also gone back North and is shot while trying to rob a bank. When Dr. Vivian goes to the Prichards' to tend Larry's wounds, he meets Alma, who tells him about Sylvia's past: Sylvia was adopted by a family of poor black southerners named Landry. When she was a young girl, the Landrys sent Sylvia to school, and the educated girl eventually realized that her father's landlord and employer, Philip Griddlestone, owed him six-hundred-twenty-five dollars. Armed with his daughter's calculations, Mr. Landry went to see Griddlestone, who rudely dismissed him. At that moment, a white laborer whom Griddlestone had earlier swindled, entered the room and shot Griddlestone, after which Efrem, Griddlestone's gossipy, meddlesome servant, screamed through the town's streets that Mr. Landry murdered his employer. A lynch mob formed and the Landry family ran away, taking refuge in the swamps. The manhunt continued for a week, and, frustrated that the Landrys had eluded them, the mob attacked and killed the traitorous Efrem, who had been gloating about how much the whites loved him. Mr. and Mrs. Landry and their young son Emil were captured on a Sunday. The parents were hanged and burned at the stake, but Emil escaped. Meanwhile, the real killer was accidentally shot by the mob, and Griddlestone's brother Armand followed Sylvia back to her refuge, the home of her parents' friends. As Armand attacked her and tried to rape her, he saw a scar on her breast and suddenly realized that Sylvia was his own daughter from his legitimate union with a black woman. Armand then paid for the girl's education but never revealed his identity, and left the house that day, without telling her that he was her father. Back in the present, Dr. Vivian finds a distraught Sylvia and tells her that they must remember that their people fought in Cuba, Mexico and France for the freedom of their great country. Confident that once married Sylvia will be an excellent wife and a confirmed patriot, Dr. Vivian is not disappointed.
James D. Ruffin
Charles D. Lucas
E. G. Tatum
S. T. Jacks
Within Our Gates
Within Our Gates stirred up considerable controversy during its original release because it contained a scene in which a black man is lynched by a white mob. At first the film, which eventually had its premiere in Chicago, was rejected by the Chicago Board of Movie Censors who were afraid the movie could possibly inspire a race riot. However, a second screening of the film by the press, Chicago politicians, and prominent members of the black community convinced the Censors to grant the film a permit since it addressed horrendous conditions that needed reform. Not everyone agreed with this assessment, however, and some of the most vigorous protestors against the film were black activists.
Not surprisingly, white theatre owners in the south who catered to black patronage were also offended by Within Our Gates and refused to book it. One theatre owner in Shreveport, Louisiana, admitted "it was a very dangerous picture to show in the south" and his comment was typical for the region.
Micheaux, no stranger to controversy, refused to compromise his material despite being locked out of numerous distribution channels and went on to tackle other unpopular but equally topical problems in films like God's Stepchildren (1938), in which a light-skinned black tries to pass for white, and Birthright (1939), the story of a black Harvard graduate who encounters opposition from both whites and members of his own race. While Micheaux was well aware that audiences wanted to be entertained, he also felt it was his duty to confront challenging issues that would, in his words, "leave an impression" on audiences.
Director/Producer: Oscar Micheaux
Screenplay: Oscar Micheaux
Music: Philip Carli
Cast: Evelyn Preer (Sylvia Landry), Flo Clements (Alma Prichard), James D. Ruffin (Conrad Drebert), Jack Chenault (Larry Prichard), William Smith (Detective Philip Gentry), Charles D. Lucas (Dr. V Vivian), Bernice Ladd (Mrs. Geraldine Stratton).
by Jeff Stafford
Within Our Gates
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1992.
Ads for the film alternately list its length as seven or eight reels. The film created controversy over its scenes of lynching and racial conflict, and by June 1920 the film had been edited down to six reels, with much of its controversial material removed. One modern source adds LaFont Harris (The boy) to the cast. Other modern sources state that the film was based on the Leo M. Frank murder-lynching case, and that Oscar Micheaux's 1921 film The Gunsaulus Mystery is a re-edited version of Within Our Gates, but these claims are most likely false. Micheaux's production company is alternately listed as the Micheaux Book and Film Co. and the Micheaux Film Co. in contemporary sources. It is unclear whether the Quality Amusement Corp. distributed the film from the beginning or became the distributor after its early playdates.
Released in United States 1920
Released in United States October 1998
Selected in 1992 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States October 1998 (Shown at AFI/ Los Angeles International Film Festival (AFI Preservation) October 22-31, 1998.)
Released in United States 1920