Richmond City Council discourages showing of film

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – In a 7 to 1 vote, Richmond City Council this week passed a resolution to discourage the American Civil War Center at historic Tredegar from showing the film "Birth of a Nation."

Some say this was an attempt at censorship. Others applaud the council's decision.

Oddly enough, the center says it has no plans to show the movie. There were attempts last year, but snowstorms, scheduling issues and the lack of a sponsor prevented it. Now, there's a whole new debate brewing.

We found a copy of the three-hour movie by D. W. Griffith on Youtube. Released in 1915, "Birth of a Nation" was considered groundbreaking for its advances in cinematography. It's also widely blasted for racial images and promoting white supremacy.

When City Council member Chris Hilbert learned there had been attempts to screen the film in its entirety in the city he introduced this resolution to strongly discourage the Civil War Center from showing it.

"I think this is a very difficult film -- one that raises a lot of questions. Just some shocking images in this film. It's a very racist movie, there's no question about that," he said.

The American Civil War Center did not find out about the resolution until after it was passed.

"It was a bit stunning to say the least," said Christy Coleman.

Coleman is the center's president. She says snippets of the film have been shown at local universities.

"Our intent was to break up the film, have points of discussion about the imagery at that point. And we had local scholars that were going to participate in that with us," she said.

The plan fell through. She says this resolution only serves to promote a message of censorship.

"There's a lot of ugliness in our history. And we can't sweep it under the rug. We can't sugar coat it. We can't whitewash it. We need to deal with what these things were so that we don't see repeats of those kinds of behaviors," Coleman said.

Hilbert says he's not sure "Birth of a Nation" is the way to further that discussion.

"It just seems to me there would have been a better vehicle to use in order to promote some healing in our city," Hilbert said.

Again, the American Civil War Center has no plans to screen this movie at any venue in Richmond. The president also did not rule it out as a possibility in the future.

The center is about to kick off its celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and Emancipation. Most of the events begin in April.

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