MIT has been chosen as the site for an advance screening of a new film--created by an acclaimed filmmaker and MIT alumnus--about the life of American educator, activist and writer Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, a leading figure in 20th century American history.
W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography In Four Voices, will be shown on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 6:15pm in Rm 26-100. Comprised of archival footage, interviews and sections of animated photographs and graphics, the film examines Dr. Du Bois' leadership in key political movements involving African-Americans and the social contexts of these movements.
The two-hour documentary will be followed by a discussion with the film's producer, award-winning filmmaker Louis Massiah, who received his SM degree in visual studies (documentary filmmaking) from MIT in 1982. Mr. Massiah, who will be Visiting Artist at MIT from December 4-6, will be joined at the post-screening discussion by poet/journalist Thulani Davis and composer Dwight Andrews, who were also involved in the film project. The free event is sponsored by the Committee on Campus Race Relations.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) is considered one of the great American political leaders, social scientists, human rights activists, editors and historians of this century. Dr. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, MA, and was the first African-American to receive a PhD from Harvard University. One of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Dr. Du Bois worked tirelessly against racism until his death at the age of 95. An outstanding scholar and writer, he wrote in many literary forms and taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Atlanta University.
Louis Massiah is an independent filmmaker who has produced and directed a variety of award-winning films for public television. Known for his explorations of civil rights themes and crises in the African-American community, his credits include two films in the Eyes on the Prize II series and The Bombing of Osage Avenue, about the burning of a black section of Philadephia as a result of the police bombing of the headquarters of the group MOVE. As a staff producer at public television station WHYY, Mr. Massiah was the producer of the MOVE Commission Hearings, 144 hours of live coverage examining the Philadelphia police bombing, for which he won a local Emmy Award.
Mr. Massiah is the founder and executive director of the Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia, a media arts organization that provides low-cost workshops and equipment access to emerging video and filmmakers and community organizations.
Mr. Massiah describes his new film as "a story-driven exploration of Dr. Du Bois' life" which explores "the varied approaches of the struggle for African-American liberation, including Black nationalism, socialism and Pan-Africanism."
MIT was selected as the site of the advance screening largely through the efforts of Ayida Mthembu, assistant dean for counseling and support services and chair of the grants committee of the Committee on Campus Race Relations.
"By sponsoring the screening of this important film at MIT," said Ms. Mthembu, "the Committee on Campus Race Relations seeks to provide an opportunity for members of the community to understand the contribution of a major American figure who pioneered the formal exploration of race relations and the role of race in the American mind."
The film is structured as a collection of four chronological documentary short stories, each section written and narrated by a well known contemporary writer/story teller.
Novelist Wesley Brown writes and narrates Section One (1895 to 1915), which examines the emergence of Dr. Du Bois, through his opposition to the powerful Booker T. Washington, as a political figure.
Poet and journalist Thulani Davis creates Section Two (1919 to 1929), which tells the story of Du Bois during the Harlem Renaissance, when he was at the peak of his power as editor of the NAACP magazine The Crisis and leader of the international Pan-African Movement.
In Section Three (1934-1948), Toni Cade Bambara, writer, filmmaker and community and international activist, chronicles Dr. Du Bois' search for alternate social and economic paths-including his examination of socialism-as a source of freedom for Black Americans.
Writer and activist Amiri Baraka (a.k.a. LeRoi Jones) narrates Section Four (1949-1963), an account of Dr. Du Bois' life during the period of McCarthyism and the Cold War, and his involvement in both the Peace movement and in Africa's liberation movements.
Funders for W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography In Four Voices include the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Ford Foundation.
Following the screening of the film, comments to the Committee on Campus Race Relations can be addressed to
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 29, 1995.