Black History Month: Look back to move forward

By: AMANDA DEE – Staff Writer

On March 2, Steve McQueen accepted the award for best picture for “12 Years a Slave.” Two days after the final day of Black History Month, a black man won the Oscar for Best Picture for the first time.

“Slavery was horrendous, violent, vicious, nasty,” McQueen said to the Los Angeles Times before the awards. “It’s understandable that people had difficulty coming to terms with it or visualizing it via cinema.”

Slavery is the dark stain on the carpet of American history — one Americans wish never spilled but know can never be removed. Capturing injustice, specifically slavery, on film is not a groundbreaking concept; but, “12 Years a Slave” speaks for victims of history to an unprecedented audience. It speaks to people who are ready for this narrative, as McQueen told the Los Angeles Times after his win.

Oscar season is over. Black History Month is over. But, the theme of UD’s Black History Month was looking back to move forward.

UD’s Created Equal film series spoke throughout February for the victims of history to UD students, faculty, staff and members of the greater Dayton community — to another audience ready for this narrative.

The series presented “Slavery by Another Name,” “The Abolitionists,” “Freedom Riders” and “The Loving Story.”

“What these films did really well was highlight the individual stories of different people who fought for civil rights. The series went back to the individual abolitionists who wanted to end slavery in the 1800s, all the way up to the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a quiet couple from Virginia in the 1960s who just wanted to be able to live as a married couple in their home state without fear of going to jail for being an interracial couple,” said Ione Damasco, site coordinator of the series.

We tend to envision masses of people mobilizing together under leaders; we picture Dr. Martin Luther King leading thousands of people to the capital in the March on Washington, but these films show us that anyone can change society if he or she is brave enough to fight even when all odds are against him or her, Damasco said.
Movies are accessible, digestible. They can show us years of history in a few hours. They can show us what, or an interpretation of what, we’ve read in textbooks.

“Films help us feel these experiences more deeply,” Damasco said.

“It’s one thing to read about the Freedom Riders getting on buses and traveling through the South, risking their lives to end the practice of segregation,” she said “But it’s another thing completely to see the actual Freedom Riders speaking about their experiences, to see the photos and black-and-white footage of them being attacked by angry racist mobs, and their complete commitment to nonviolence as they refused to fight back.”

Film helps us look back at the stains of history and understand we cannot remove them, so we can move forward, something that the Created Equal film series encouraged students to embrace.

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