Prove It on Me: New Negroes, Sex, and Popular Culture in the 1920s

By Erin D. Chapman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1 Oscar Micheaux’s Within
Our Gates and the Emergence
of the New Negro

In her “My Thrills in the Movies” series, which was published in the weekly Pittsburgh Courier, star New Negro actress Evelyn Preer recounted some of her experiences working with the famous New Negro filmmaker Oscar Micheaux to make his films The Homesteader, Birthright, The Brute, Deceit, and Within Our Gates. Throughout the several installments, Preer’s tone and language suggest her to have been a sweet, slightly silly, confidently popular glamour girl or flapper. “You see I must have my thrills,” she wrote.1 Yet Preer’s light, teasing tone both promised more intimate knowledge than she intended to provide and belied the depth of insight she brought to her performance as Sylvia Landry in Within Our Gates, arguably the most controversial race film of the New Negro era.

In her series, Preer implicitly declined to satisfy her fans’ curiosity regarding her more personal thrills and tastes. She quoted one admirer as asking, “Miss Preer, what male lead do you enjoy working with the best?” but she did not respond directly. Rather, she interpreted the question as “show[ing] the general interest in the movies” and went on to explain that “in this series I will try to answer some of these questions which both feminine and male admirers of a movie heroine might ask.”2 She discussed her work experiences, not her personal relationships. Indeed, in recounting her interactions on the set, Preer was quite circumspect, even downplaying the experience of enacting an attempted rape. Although she considered the scene of Within Our Gates in which Sylvia Landry fought off her attacker

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