Charles Ward authors this guest post. Charles is the Chief Development Officer at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. EJS held our 2014 ‘Civil Rights at 50’ event at YBCA and Charles was instrumental in making that happen. He also looped EJS into this fantastic community screening of SELMA last night at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.
Last night at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre, more than 1,400 children (some being pushed by their parents in strollers), teachers, youth-centered program leaders, and other adults gathered to see SELMA. The audience was as diverse as the city is.
They came from all parts of town…from Bayview-Hunters Point to Pacific Heights. They were African American, Latino, Asian, White and every mixed combination imaginable. The evening was hosted by Google’s philanthropic arm, (at the behest of it’s Black employees) and the Bay Area YMCA, whose CEO, Chuck Collins, has served as a spokesman for the Bay Area #SELMAforStudents initiative.
The screening was followed by a panel discussion that went well past the school night bedtime of most of those in attendance. The panelists were: Belva Davis, the “dean” of Bay Area broadcast journalists and the first African American news anchor west of the Mississippi; Nasina Chambers, a sophomore at Wallenberg Traditional High School; Clayborne Carson, history professor at Stanford, where for 30 years he has led the King Institute and directed the Martin Luther King Papers Project; Eva Paterson, legendary Bay Area civil rights lawyer and President of the Equal Justice Society; and Ben Jealous, former President of the National NAACP and current social impact entrepreneur.
During the panel discussion, the audience was asked to raise their hands if they had NOT been born by 1965. Almost every hand went up…children AND adults. Over time, it has become clear that the gap in first-hand knowledge about this time in U.S. history is not just with our youth. It goes far beyond that.
The panel discussed the current attack on hard-won civil rights laws. They discussed the important role that women held in the movement (in particular, Diane Nash, who along with her then husband, James Bevel, originated the plan for a march from Selma to Montgomery).
We learned how we can support current voter registration drives in the South today as an antidote to the cynical passage of new voter I.D. laws. Clay Carson beautifully addressed the controversy regarding historical inaccuracies in the film by pointing out that the evidence does not support the story told in the Book of Exodus, yet Dr. King relied on the myth handed down over thousands of years to lead an entire movement.
The point being that good storytelling requires there to be something at stake, rising tension, and a narrative arc that keeps viewers actively engaged. Ava DuVernay has added something important to the canon of American filmmaking that is unimpeachable. And four people with a beautiful idea and an army of co-conspirators has helped it to penetrate into often hard to reach places…as it did last night in my hometown.
Many thanks to you all.