Friend-of-artsmeme Mike Kaplan shares an image of a movie poster personally autographed by Lillian Gish.
Kaplan produced THE WHALES OF AUGUST (1987), which starred the then-elderly but still luminous Gish, in marvelous scenes that convey her screen magic with Bette Davis, who also stars in the film. Featured here is a Gish movie from another era: King Vidor’s LA BOHEME (1926). The message in her writing reveals her sweet nature.
I believe that even if Gish was a racist — she wasn’t — her family name must be restored to the Gish Film Theater at Bowling Green State University, with a public apology for besmirching not just an artist, but a donor. I know those are fighting words, but the notion that an individual’s personally or publicly held political views, if in disagreement with prevailing sentiment, must be banished or erased from history or public record, rides a dangerous, slippery slope. It’s not just what they did; it is the way they did it. The university’s trustees voted 7 to 0 to remove the Gish name from its screening theater on May 3, responding to a protest from the school’s black student’s league, with no consultation with even the theater’s honorary board. (Ostensibly the theater was also named in honor of Dorothy Gish; was she too deemed politically reprehensible?)
It’s insane. A movie is “make believe.” Gish was “acting.” She was “doing her job.” A job she completed in 100 additional movies. I recommend that Bowling Green follow the advice of Dorothy & Lillian Gish Prize awardee, Spike Lee, and “Do the Right Thing.”
Apologize and undo, as you got this one wrong.
This unbelievable statement from the university president Rodney Rogers:
All Bowling Green State University statements on the controversy here. Teaching moment, President Rogers!
Not a footnote, a statement: I do understand the black students’ anguish over THE BIRTH OF A NATION.