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Bowling Green State Removed Lillian Gish's Name from Their Theatre Over Her Role in Birth of a Nation. Why Do Some Want the Name Restored?

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tags: film, education, Confederacy, birth of a nation, naming



The film Birth of a Nation has been studied for years for its introduction of film techniques that went on to transform filmmaking. But the film is judged by more than its technique. The 1915 work is full of racist images. White people, many in blackface, portray (and denigrate) black people as dangerous and unintelligent. The Ku Klux Klan is glorified. The film was wildly popular with white audiences who cared nothing about its racism.

Last month, Bowling Green State University stripped the name of one of the film's stars from a campus theater. The university did so after students sought the change and a group of scholars studied the issue and urged the change in name.

This week, dozens of prominent Hollywood figures -- James Earl Jones, Helen Mirren, Martin Scorsese, plus a number of leading film scholars -- released an open lettercalling for Bowling Green to keep the names of the late Lillian Gish (who was a star in the film) and her sister on the theater. (Gish and her sister grew up in Ohio but were not alumnae of the university.)

The letter has renewed discussion of how figures from the past should be judged -- in particular if they are associated with racist actions.

Gish shouldn't be judged by this one film when she made so many over a long career, the letter says.

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed

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