Emerson Gallery to Present Series of Major Films on African Americans

In conjunction with the exhibition The BuffaloSoldier: The African American Soldier in the U.S. Army, 1866 - 1912,Hamilton College's Emerson Gallery will present a series of threeremarkable films that offer broadly different perceptions of African Americans.Both the exhibition and the films are free and open to the public. All threefilms will be presented in Kirner-Johnson Auditorium on the campus of HamiltonCollege.

Birth of a Nation, USA, D.W. Griffith, 1915, 159 minutes -- January 21,7:30 p.m.

A landmark in film narrative technique and an essential document of Americancultural history, Birth of a Nation is also a deeply racist portrait ofthe post-Civil War South. Based on a luridly racist play, the notoriousReconstruction melodrama, The Clansman, the film presents a romanticisedview of the antebellum south, the devastating effects of the Civil War, and thestruggle of white Southerners to survive Reconstruction. When it appeared,Birth of a Nation provoked massive social protest, with the NAACP andothers launching boycotts and bringing suit to prevent showings. This hugelysuccessful movie, the first true blockbuster in film history, can now be seenas a popularizer of American history that perpetuated powerful and dangerousAmerican racial myths. (Following the showing, the public is cordially invitedto stay and participate in an open discussion of the film with Hamilton Collegefaculty and students.)

Body and Soul, USA, Oscar Michaeux, 1924, 80 minutes -- February 3, 7:30p.m.

The black American cinema began as a direct response to the racistbigotry of Birth of a Nation. Throughout the 1920s, Oscar Micheaux,born in 1884 to parents who had been slaves, was the major figure in theunderground all-black cinema that attempted to create a black aesthetic to fillthe vacuum left by Hollywood. Body and Soul represents Micheaux'shighest achievement. Starring the great Paul Robeson in his movie debut,Body and Soul is Micheaux's attempt to wrestle with the nature of theblack community. Robeson plays a dual role as both hustler-trickster and agood bourgeois disciple of Booker T. Washington, characters that representedthe two alternatives Micheaux saw as open to the black man in America.

Sergeant Rutledge, USA, John Ford, 1960, 111 minutes -- February 10, 7:30p.m.

In Sergeant Rutledge, John Ford, the well know Hollywooddirector of so many classic westerns, portrayed a black man as the centralheroic figure for the first time in the history of the mainstream western. Thefilm considers the effects of racial prejudice on a Buffalo Soldier in the oldSouthwest as it presents the story of a black sergeant of the 9th Cavalry (anall-black unit that fought during the Indian wars) who is put on trial for rapeand murder. There is a special irony to Ford's commitment to telling the storyof Sergeant Rutledge: in 1914, as a young newcomer to Hollywood, John Fordfound various odd jobs in the movie industry, one of which was riding with theKu Klux Klan as an extra in Birth of a Nation.

The Emerson Gallery is located in Clinton, New York, on the campus of HamiltonCollege, in Christian Johnson Hall, directly behind the college chapel. TheGallery is wheelchair accessible. Gallery hours are weekdays, 12-5, weekends,1-5, during scheduled exhibitions when the college is in session. For furtherinformation, contact the Emerson Gallery at 315 859-4396.

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