By Al Balaban

Birth ofGloryHow can people of one racial or ethnic group try to genuinely understand and empathize with people of a different racial and historical background?  Without having experienced the history, physical, emotional and daily impact of being in that person’s skin and social setting, is it possible?  In February, Black History Month offers a timely incentive to learn about the African American experience in a variety of ways.

In the past we have had the good fortune to listen to the personal experiences of some of our African American neighbors here in Sarasota.  We also get information from historical and popular literature, music, art, and, most commonly, the movies.  While almost all of the films dealing with the African American experience were created and produced by white artists of varied competence and awareness, it is still possible to get an inkling of what that experience and impact actually was.

And importantly, films — easily available — offer us a perspective of the general cultural attitude of the times in which they were made.  The Civic Affairs committee has selected four films, which, viewed as a whole, should be understood to reflect cultural attitudes, not historical accuracy, but as a flavor of its times.

We begin with Birth of a Nation because it was a masterpiece of its time from a strictly artistic and cinematic viewpoint.  But its historical distortions and untruths also reflected and were influenced by the mind-set of its director and many of the industry’s leaders, as well as the audiences of its time.

The following films, which we suggest be seen sequentially, will show the slow evolution of Hollywood’s perception of the African American experience:



February 1 Birth of a Nation
February 8 Glory (military experience)
February 15 Sounder (rural experience)
February 22 Raisin in the Sun (urban experience)



Join us for Sundays in February at 7:00 p.m. in Pilgrim Hall.