With the 80-year-old Gone With The Wind more or less culturally discredited for its unfortunate racial content and D.W. Griffith‘s The Birth of A Nation all but erased from common memory for its horrid depictions of the KKK amid other racial affronts, it’s not entirely surprising that the reputation of Lillian Gish, the star of Birth of a Nation as well as arguably the greatest actress of the silent era, is also being trashed by the forces of p.c. cleansing.
Film scholar, author and HE friendo Joseph McBride, co-writer of “An American Film Institute Salute to Lillian Gish” for CBS-TV in 1983 and ’84, has posted a suitably outraged essay about the Gish debunking.
MassLive’s Ray Kelly is reporting that “more than 50 prominent artists, writers, and film scholars are calling for the restoration of Gish’s name to the BGSU theater. Among those signers: Martin Scorsese, James Earl Jones, Helen Mirren, George Stevens Jr., McBride, Malcolm McDowell, Lauren Hutton, Larry Jackson and Joe Dante.”
McBride confesses to “mingled disbelief and outrage” after hearing that Gish has become “the latest victim of political correctness run amok.” Here’s the link.
“The Directors Guild of America in 1999 provoked a similar controversy by removing Griffith’s name from its career achievement award,” McBride reminds. “Director Robert Wise, one of the DGA board members at the time and a past president of the guild, provoked a further controversy when he told me in a subsequent interview that he thought the guild was wrong to dishonor Griffith and had overreacted to pressure. (Bowling Green cited that DGA precedent as one of its justifications for stripping Gish’s name from its theater.)
“But it’s long past time to get beyond knee-jerk, grandstanding outrage over our belated discovery that some actor or director or writer or composer once (or maybe more than once) was guilty of social attitudes and actions we deplore.
“Underneath all this, I detect not so much a serious desire to confront our past in a nuanced, thoughtful way as much as a myopic form of self-congratulation. How much wiser and more tolerant are we today! Surely, we would never be guilty of making a film that offends any particular group! But how will some of our films of 2019 look to audiences a hundred years from now? We can only imagine how benighted many will seem.
“It may seem ironic that in 2013 Spike Lee accepted the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize from the Gish Prize Trust for ‘his brilliance and unwavering courage in using film to challenge conventional thinking, and for the passion for justice that he feels deep in his soul.’
“‘Would you believe, two of the most important films that impacted me while I was studying at NYU starred Lillian Gish?,” Lee said. ‘Those films were D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation and Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter. Isn’t it funny (sometimes) how life works? And how ironic life can be? God can be a trickster. Peace and love to the Gish Sisters…”
Excerpt from Bowling Green State University’s “Report from The Task Force on the Gish Film Theater“:
“On February 26, 2019, President Rodney Rogers invited members of the Bowling Green State University community to serve on a task force to address the naming of the relocated Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater. His charge to the Task Force on the Gish Film Theater was “to focus the conversation and find appropriate action” and “to provide guidance to the President and the Board of Trustees on the following areas:
• The naming of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater given the historical context of Lillian Gish’s participation in the D.W. Griffith film The Birth of a Nation (1915) and the Gish Theater’s role in the development of a film culture at BGSU;
• The means by which alumni of Film Studies and Production might be recognized relative to the theater;
• The means by which the theater might enhance diversity and inclusion at BGSU to thoughtfully engage our students through programming and co-curricular experiences.”
“As part of Black History Month celebrations, the Black Student Union (BSU) showed Ava DuVernay’s film 13th in the theater in February 2019. Throughout the film’s exploration of the relationship between slavery, Jim Crow, racism, and the prison-industrial complex, multiple clips from The Birth of a Nation are used to show the lasting impact of the stereotypes of black men in America.
“On February 10, 2019, BSU noted the irony of showing 13th in a theater named for the star of The Birth of a Nation and brought to the University’s attention the problematic nature of the Gish name for BGSU’s African American students. BSU leadership asked that the naming of the theater be reconsidered in light of Lillian Gish’s strong association with The Birth of a Nation.”