Dr. Richard Grupenhoff is the Founding Chair of the Radio-TV-Film Department in the School of Communication at Rowan University. He holds a BA from Xavier University, an MA from Purdue University, and a PhD from Ohio State University. He has been a faculty member at Rowan since 1975, teaching Film Production, Film History, Screenwriting, and African American Film History.

Dr. Grupenhoff is the author of The Black Valentino: The Stage and Screen Career of Lorenzo Tucker and other articles on Black Film History. He has also written a number of screenplays, and his adaptation of The Black Valentino is currently being considered for production by Hollywood studios.

Dr. Grupenhoff can be reached through e-mail at grupenhoff@rowan.edu

 

Observing a 50th Anniversary

Remembering African American Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Micheaux died March 25, 1951, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Exactly fifty years later, family, friends, townspeople, and invited scholars -- including Dr. Richard Grupenhoff -- gathered in Great Bend, Kansas, to mark the anniversary of Micheaux's death.

Who was Oscar Micheaux, and why did he deserve such recognition? According to Grupenhoff, Micheaux was the most important black filmmaker of the 20th century. Between 1918 and 1948, Micheaux wrote, produced, directed, edited, and distributed over 40 feature films. These films were made with all-black casts for all-black audiences and came to be known as "race movies." Micheaux was the first African American to produce a full-length feature film and the first to produce a talking feature film.

These films were part of a much larger movement that produced over 300 "race movies" made by numerous independent black filmmakers between 1915 and 1955. They were made partly as a reaction to stereotypical depictions of blacks in such Hollywood movies as The Birth of a Nation and often contained elements of interracial romance, lynching, and passing -- all themes Hollywood was loath to consider.

Much of the history of independent black filmmaking had been marginalized or written out of film history texts, and it's only been within the past fifteen years that historians have become aware of this body of work. Part of the credit for this reawakening goes to Grupenhoff, whose biography, The Black Valentino: The Stage and Screen Career of Lorenzo Tucker (1988), told the story of Philadelphia native Lorenzo Tucker, who was a leading man in many of Micheaux's films.

A central chapter in that book concerns Micheaux and his contributions to African American film history, and that chapter helped reawaken interest in Micheaux. Today there are numerous scholars and graduate students at work on Micheaux and his body of work (about 15 of his 40 films are known to exist). There is even an Oscar Micheaux newsletter out of Duke University, and just this year two scholarly texts on Micheaux have been published.

The festivities in Great Bend included presentations by a number of scholars, including Grupenhoff, whose paper was entitled "One Step Ahead: Oscar Micheaux and the Censors." In this presentation, Grupenhoff delineated the difficulties Micheaux had with State Review Boards that forced Micheaux to constantly compromise his films by editing out what members perceived to be offensive passages.

Also on the program was James McDaniel, who plays Lt. Arthur Fancy on NYPD Blue. McDaniel was there to announce that he was developing a film for HBO based on the life of Micheaux.

-- from dot.comm, April 2001.