On September 18 at the Historic Attucks Theatre and September 21 at the Chandler Recital Hall at ODU, matching forums were organized to showcase the political, social and artistic responses to the film “Birth of a Nation” which debuted in 1915.
Organized by the ODU Institute for Humanities, the educational program, called “The Birth of an Answer” , presented African American creative responses to the film which highlighted fears, prejudices and stereotypes of Blacks, especially men who were shown as savages and sexual predators, especially for White women, and as incompetent and dangerous.
At both sites, there was a screening of African American pioneer filmmaker Oscar Micheaux’s “Within Our Gates” (1920) accompanied by a live musical performance of a film score written by Adolphus Hailstork and featuring the Harlem Quartet.
The I. Sherman Greene Chorale, directed by Elizabeth Eccles, performed at the Attucks event.
Also at the Attucks, a panel of African American filmmakers and producers discussed the challenges of telling compelling Black American stories.
Moderated by film critic Mike Sargent, the panel featured Black film innovator Melvin Van Peebles; actor and movie producer, Tim Reid; Zeinabu Irene Davis; and Michael Swanson.
Both locations screened a short fiction film called “Our Nation”, depicting the Hampton Roads response to “Birth of a Nation”
Dr. Avi Santo, Associate Professor and Director of the Institute for the Humanities ODU, headed the program.
“We want to unite the community to create a critical conversation about the push back which took place against ‘Birth of a Nation’ 100 years ago,” said Santo. “We are not celebrating the film, because of the troubling images of African Americans. We want to show how the community reacted not only politically, but artistically, to the false claims and images of that film.”