Before Oscar Micheaux, African-Americans had only a marginal presence in American movies, and only then as figures of menace or derision. In 1919, Micheaux made a film of his book The Homesteader, and followed it with Within Our Gates in 1920, a tough-minded drama designed to expose the ugliness of racism. For the next 30 years, Micheaux wrote, produced, and directed nearly 40 films that portrayed the difficulties of black Americans. Hollywood regarded his productions as unimportant "race films" that were played only in segregated theaters. But to African-American audiences and the black actors he employed, Micheaux was a trailblazer who addressed contemporary concerns. Today's black cinema -- and the mainstream stardom of Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, and others -- has roots in the work of Oscar Micheaux.