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Birthright (1939) Online

Birthright (1939) Online
Original Title :
Genre :
Movie / Drama
Year :
Directror :
Oscar Micheaux
Cast :
Carman Newsome,Ethel Moses,Alec Lovejoy
Writer :
Thomas Sigismund Stribling,Oscar Micheaux
Type :
Time :
1h 14min
Rating :
Birthright (1939) Online

A black Harvard graduate confronts racism. {locallinks-homepage}
Cast overview, first billed only:
Carman Newsome Carman Newsome - Peter Siner
Ethel Moses Ethel Moses - Cissie Deldine
Alec Lovejoy Alec Lovejoy - Tump Pack
Trixie Smith Trixie Smith - Caroline Siner
Hazel Lisz Hazel Lisz
Ida Forsyne Ida Forsyne - Rose
Herbert E. Jelley Herbert E. Jelley
John Ward John Ward
C.R. Chase C.R. Chase
Alice B. Russell Alice B. Russell - Nan Berry Deldine
H.E. Knight H.E. Knight
George Lessey George Lessey
Columbus Jackson Columbus Jackson
Harry Moses Harry Moses
Tom Dillon Tom Dillon

Filmed in late 1937.

User reviews



This was the third of five films bearing the title: BIRTHRIGHT. This film was produced by the Micheaux Pictures Corporation by Oscar Micheaux and released in 1939. Micheaux was inclined to adapt from his screenplays from novels. Micheaux based this one on T.S. Stribling's novel of the same title which was about a black student who graduated from Harvard University who confronted the racism of of his time. The film had a subtitle also, it was: A Story of the Negro and the South, it referred to the heroic young man in his attempt to found a school for African-American children in a small town in Tennessee so as to "Uplift the Race," a phrase used by Spike Lee half a century later. Micheaux also made the earlier silent-movie of the same title in 1924.


I had wanted to see this film-- and many others by Micheaux-- for decades, and was relieved to see that TCM presented it as part of a restoration project (DVDs are also being released).

There's no doubt that Micheaux occupies a significant and often mercurial place in American film history. He directed films from the silent era well beyond the conversion to sound, confronting concerns about African Americans' experiences through a wide range of stories, and yet many of his works have been lost forever.

In this case of this film, the first two reels are missing, but the restoration has preserved that part of the story with script notes and stills that introduce the action. Thereafter, the tale of a Harvard-educated black man, who returns to his southern town to face racist attitudes and family strife, conveys sincere and articulate statements about relevant political issues of that period that still resonate today.

You will quickly recognize hallmarks of low-budget conditions, such as insert shots that often break continuity, but the film remains a vital testament to racial conditions in the 1930s as the culture was overcoming the Depression and about to head into another major war. Micheaux also has a prescient sense for the civil rights movement that would energize the next generation.

I hope that further work is done to locate and preserve these historical artifacts, which help us to understand our past beyond the dominant Hollywood tradition that has otherwise absorbed all the attention.


Birthright (1939)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

Peter Siner (Carman Newsome) returns to the South after graduating from Harvard and he soon realizes that an educated black man isn't going to sit well with many folks. Peter plans to open some education centers for black youths but quickly comes up against opposition and dirty business practices.

Oscar Micheaux's BIRTHRIGHT is a remake of a film he made in 1924 and sadly that version is lost. The first two reels of this 1939 version are also lost but the print I watched had some dialogue and story lines to help you understand what was going on. From here we get another very low-budget film from the director but this one here is certainly among the most interesting that he made.

If you've'e seen enough of Micheaux's work then you already know that many of his films had to deal with low-budgets as well as technical issues that prevented them from being of a high quality. Those same issues are here but for the most part the story is good enough to overcome this and you're left with a pretty entertaining film that manages to give you a great idea of what it must have been like being black, educated and trying to function in the South.

As is also the case with much of the director's work, the performances are a mixed bag but on the whole I thought they were a lot better here than what we typically see. Newsome wasn't brilliant here but he was certainly good enough to keep you glued to the material and he was certainly a sympathetic character and one that you could feel for. As I said, the majority of the cast are hit and miss but none of them are bad enough to ruin the picture.

Hopefully one day the complete film will turn up as well as the original version. Still, this is an interesting movie and certainly one that is worth watching.


This adaptation of Thomas Edmund Stribling's novel was akin to Hitchcock's adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's novel, 'Jamaica Inn'. I enjoyed reading Stribling's novel simply because it was written from a black perspective.

I don't think I should be too harsh on Micheaux because his contemporaries, Hitchcock and DeMille, weren't at their best either at this stage.


This film, from what I know and have seen of it, really is exceptional, quite well filmed and cast for its time. It recounts the uphill struggle that even a well educated black man faced (the handsome protagonist educated at Harvard University, at that!). Alas, its availability is quite limited. Even if there were earlier versions and remakes, silent as well as sound movies, this one deserves wider rediscovery.

For some fairly extended scenes sampled from the film, there are bits of it included on the 2008 DVD anthology, "Jammin', Jumpin', and Jivin': All Black Cast Classics. vol. 2" (Something Weird Video. available on its own WWW site).