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Characters in Within Our Gates

            Sylvia Landry, a light skinned black woman living in the North, returns to the South and dedicates herself to teaching at a school for the children of black sharecroppers. Despite the efforts of Sylvia and the founder of the school, Reverend Wilson Jacobs, the school is overcrowded and in need of money due to a lack of assistance by the government. Micheaux clearly demonstrates the lack of educational opportunity of African Americans in the south. In an attempt to save the school, she goes back North to try and find people who will help in her cause but she's met with racism, from both blacks and whites. The film gives off the sense that black people cannot help themselves but must always rely on the white or lighter skinned people to help with their problems and take care of them.
             During our viewings the issue regarding conflict in color, light skin and dark skin, did not strike me in any of the two movies. I was focused more on the characters and following the details that added to the story. I simply noticed that the entire cast was African American was refreshing to see coming from a film of this time period. Issues about black people having black help I just attributed to the fact that the whole cast had to be all African American.
             These films portray not only color prejudice but also class tensions within the African-American community. Some of this is also very subtle. The silent films without the use of speech rely on the actors' actions and body language to help add detail to the story. There is a distinct difference in behavior between light skin versus darker skinned complexion. In "Within our Gates," the alcoholic character was portrayed a darker skinned man. The films have the theme of having educated and/or professional people in society as light-skinned, while poor people are represented as dark-skinned and with more aggressive behavior.
             The two major themes of Oscar Micheaux's film "Within Our Gates" are the issues of racism and the class distinction among African Americans at the time.

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