By Michael Sauter
Updated June 20, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

A former homesteader and son of ex-slaves, Oscar Micheaux was a pioneering silent-era filmmaker whose vivid black characters far outweighed Hollywood’s mostly stick-figure stereotypes. Patrick McGilligan relies heavily on Micheaux’s early autobiographical novels and films to fill in his sketchily documented personal history. Although he never gets very far inside Micheaux’s head, the public man comes through loud and clear: Whether churning his films out to raise quick cash or sneaking them into Southern theaters past puritanical censors, Micheaux is as impressive for his resourcefulness as for his artistic vision. B+