By Randy Fiedler
Fifty years after the death of American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a special conference co-sponsored by Baylor University and the Austin Film Festival will bring together educators, filmmakers, theologians and policymakers to examine the ways that film and culture have intersected over the past half-century to advance racial reconciliation and justice.
The conference, “A Long, Long Way: Race and Film, 1968-2018,” will be held Feb. 16-18, 2018, at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where Dr. King preached his last sermon before his death. Through film screenings, lectures, discussions and teaching sessions, the conference will consider how film has been both a divisive and unifying medium, and how it offers unique opportunities to launch substantial conversations about race, prejudice and identity.“American films have always told our most influential stories about these topics,” said Dr. Greg Garrett, a professor of English at Baylor University who serves as one of the conference’s organizers. “Although 2018 marks 50 years since Dr. King was killed, race remains one of our most difficult issues and one of the most difficult to discuss, but it becomes easier to approach when we do it in the context of a story.”
The conference will open with a screening and discussion of the groundbreaking 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Later in the conference a contemporary film on race will be screened, followed by a panel discussion with filmmakers and actors in attendance.
“In addition to these major public programs, we’ll also be exploring how pastors, scholars, teachers and other people interested in race and justice might use film as part of their work,” Garrett said. “Our goal is to open up new avenues for reconciliation and understanding through the use of narrative, and to contribute some important insights in our ongoing national conversation about race.”
Attendees will choose from three tracks: “Understanding Race and Film,” “Preaching on Race and Film” and “Race, Film and Reconciliation.” The conference’s final day on Sunday, Feb. 18, will feature the celebration of the Holy Eucharist at Washington National Cathedral. The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, the Susan D. Morgan Distinguished Professor of Religion at Goucher College in Baltimore and the Canon Theologian at the Cathedral, will preach, offering a theological perspective during Black History Month.“Just as the National Cathedral is the most symbolic spot to host this conversation about race and film, Baylor is the most appropriate institution to help sponsor it,” Garrett said. “Baylor’s motto, ‘Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana,’ means that we seek to be of service to God and to our communities, and in this program we see a natural conjunction of the two.”
“In 2nd Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes that Christians are called to the ministry of reconciliation, and in this, as in in other issues of justice and human dignity, Baylor is called to offer an informed Christian perspective on the issues of the day,” Garrett said. “Through this collaboration with the National Cathedral, we can have a voice at the national level on one of our most pressing national issues, and can show Baylor in the positive light we know it deserves.”
A full conference program and registration information are available here. Persons interested in hearing a personal message from Dr. Garrett or contributing to the conference can visit the event’s Baylor crowdfunding page.