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This film is one of the earliest surviving examples of a film by an African American filmmaker. Sylvia Landry is engaged to a black soldier, but her rival Alma Pritchard arranges for him to catch Sylvia in an innocent but compromising situation. No longer engaged, she moves to the South to work as a teacher in an all-black school.
When the school has financial problems, she returns to Boston to raise money for it. There, she is befriended by a white doctor, Dr. Vivian, who falls in love with her. In a flashback, her rival tells the doctor how Sylvia lost her family. Sylvia's father was unjustly accused of murder, and her parents were lynched.
Micheaux was not a great artist, but his films are important because they dealt with issues that the mainstream white studios ignored. The only surviving print of Within Our Gates was found in an archive in Spain, and the titles had been rewritten in Spanish. When translated back to English, plot points may have been lost.
On the other hand, the last third of the film is a haunting flashback to the death of Sylvia's parents. The scenes of the lynch-mob beating one man to death and hanging Mr. and Mrs. Landry are still powerful today, and the film is highly critical of blacks who betray their race to earn favor with the white dominant society.