AN OPEN LETTER
To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
An Open Letter to Lionel Lindsay, President of the Boston NAACP:
Dear Mr. Lindsay:
I noted in the Saturday, November 1st issue of the Harvard CRIMSON, that according to the Boston Film Society, the movie, "Birth of a Nation," was not shown here at Harvard on Friday, October 31st, as scheduled, because of forcible "banning" due to pressure from "a Negro association," presumably the local chapter of the NAACP. In this morning's CRIMSON there is reported a denial by you that your organization had exerted any pressure on the Film Society leading to the last-minute cancellation of the film. I was very pleased to see this and should hope that your organization is now taking a more enlightened view after the telegram of May 21, 1948, sent to the Boston Film Society, in which you called the showing "objectionable" and in which you held the Society "responsible for any repercussions." . . .
However, I am definitely not in sympathy with the stand which you have taken in the above-mentioned telegram. It seems to me not only over-dramatic but unwise to employ implied threats of "repercussions" and to place yourselves in the position of "censors". You have justly objected to the banning of pro-Negro films throughout the South, and it seems to me hypocritical in this case to object to a so-called anti-Negro film from being shown in the North, especially among a college-educated group. I say "so-called" because as long as I am prevented from seeing this film I shall not be able to judge for myself.
Since I have always made a point of seeing those films which attempt to challenge prejudice, I should likewise want to be free to see those which evidently do not. In so doing, it is quite likely that the latter would simply reinforce my tendency to work on behalf of minority groups in society and against those who are or have been trying to destroy the equal rights of human beings. When your organization, however, through attempted censorship, seeks to prevent one from forming his own judgments, don't you think that this may have exactly the opposite effect from that which you intend? Isn't it possible that this will simply increase the already existing prejudice and even make those of us who want to be your friends and supporters resentful.
In my opinion, a far more beneficial course would have been for you to place at the entrance of the theaters where this film was to have been shown members of your race with handbills to distribute to the patrons as they enter. In these handbills (which could be mimeographed at small cost) you could present a calm and well-reasoned statement as to why your organization finds the film objectionable, and cautioning the patrons to watch for those aspects of the film which you feel are overtly intended or have the effect to be prejudicial to the Negro. After all, despite these apparently objectionable scenes, this film is famous in American cinema history for its pioneering in camera technique and for its motif, and is one in which students of such art are naturally interested. Virginia G. McCiam