Posted on August 12, 2004

Complaints, Threats Force Movie Screening Cancellation

NBC 4 (Cal.), aug. 9

LOS ANGELES — The proprietor of a Los Angeles silent movie theater said complaints and threats led him to cancel Monday night’s planned screening of the 1915 epic “The Birth of a Nation.”

An 8 p.m. screening of the D.W. Griffith Civil War film had been planned to launch the Silent Movie Theatre’s “Silent Movie Monday” series.

Charlie Lustman, who owns the theater, said he hoped to present the film — considered a pioneer in film techniques despite its portrayal of blacks as would-be rapists and stereotyped buffoons — in the proper context, preceded by a debate and a presentation by a film scholar.

However, Lustman said he received calls and other communications that threatened the theater. He said he was also concerned about patrons and the 92-year-old organist whose music will accompany the film having to cross a picket line.

“We decided it would be the safest thing not to run the movie,” he said.

It is the second time the theater has canceled a showing of the film, which had also been scheduled for a screening during the 2000 Democratic convention before protest from the NAACP led to its cancellation.

This time, black activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the National Alliance for Positive Action, planned a news conference in Leimert Park this morning to protest the planned showing of the film, which features actors in blackface eating watermelon and taking over the federal government, while Ku Klux Klan members are depicted as heroes.

After Hutchinson’s group received word that the screening had been canceled, the event turned into an announcement that the film would not be shown.

Hutchinson said this afternoon that his group did not call for the screening to be canceled, but sought to ensure that movie patrons were educated about the racial stereotypes in the film.

“The point was, show it, but at least provide some context,” Hutchinson said.

Lustman said he was never contacted by Hutchinson about how the film would be shown. He said if he had talked to Hutchinson, he would have told him the screening was planned in an educational context.

“They never contacted us at all,” he said.

Hutchinson said his group would still conduct an “informational campaign” that was to start at 6 p.m. in front of the North Fairfax Avenue theater despite the cancellation.