Tennessee Drops Two Films Made Thirty Years Ago
Early last fall two members of the University of Tennessee's faculty formed a Film Society to bring foreign and American film classics to their campus. Commercial theatres in Knoxville, they felt, did not find artistic and historical films paid off at the box office. Hence, students could not see such films.
The first films selected were a Russian film, "Alexander Nevsky", with its locale in thirteenth century Russia, and a series of Charlie Chaplain shorts. Both were made over thirty years ago.
When the Knoxville Journal, one of the city's two papers, found out about it, it headlined the fact Tennessee was showing "Communist propaganda films." The next day, a local American Legion Post resolved that by the showings, Tennessee students "were being subjected to immoral and un-American information."
Almost before any real pressure developed, Tennessee officials withdrew the Chaplain and Nesky films and substituted others.
The ban touched off a series of protests from the city's other paper, the Knoxville News-Sentinel. "If works of art are to be judged by the public beliefs and public morals of their creators," the News-Sentinel said, "many of the world's masterpieces would have to be tossed into the garbage can." Letters to the editor from all over the state blasted the Legion for its part in the ban. One called them "our local commissars of culture."
Back at the University, Tennessee's Chapter of the American Association of University Professors passed a resolution expressing concern over the University's action. This was sent to President Brehm. But Administration officials remained adamant. The films have not yet been shown.
'New China' Banned
When the University of Minnesota's Film Society included a Communist-produced "New China" in its Fall term series, the school's administrative authorities clamped down. Going above the collective heads of the Film Society they cancelled "New China" on the grounds that such a "propagandistic" movie had "no place in any program offered to the public under the University's auspices". Much of the weight tipping the balance toward the decision was provided by the fact that this is the year in which Minnesota's directors submit the University's budget to the state legislature. Unfavorable publicity, the Administration no doubt felt, would not help their case at the Capital Building.
Irate over the move, seventeen members of Minnesota's political science department signed a protest which they sent the school's president and the Minnesota Daily. In their statement the seventeen asserted that they had "faith in the capacity of the students to decide for themselves what ideas they wished to embrace. We feel confident that if the propaganda in the film were blatant then no one, especially the students would be duped by it." The protest was no official statement of the political science department. Only two of the signers held positions as high as associate professors--the rest were teaching fellows or research assistants. Instructor John Houbel summed it up, "We acted as individuals quite outside the normal channels of administrative procedure."
The protest brought a plethora of sympathetic letters from students and editorials in the Daily. Aware of pressure against the decision the Administration began to plan a graceful solution to the problem that would both prevent embarrassment and allow the films to be shown.
They chose a plan which would be a lesson in counter propaganda. University officials latched onto the "Hoaxters", a lesson in Nazi methods of propaganda, and billed it along with "New China" for a showing on April 15.
The films were presented free of charge in a University Auditorium and were open to the public as well as the students. About 4500 people attended the two performances. Before each film a transcribed statement over the loud-speakers indicated the nature of the subsequent material. In introducing the "Hoaxters" the speakers echoed that the film "show how Communists as well as Nazis and Fascists deluded persons under their rule with hollow promises of equality and prosperity."
After the hectic day Minnesota's Administrative Vice-President Malcolm Willy said "The showing of the "Hoaxters" in conjunction with "New China" might well have raised in the minds of its viewers question whether "the Hoaxters" is the best kind of propaganda film that could be devised."