Gish name for venerable BGSU venue challenged

Photos of Lillian Gish were displayed at Gish Film Theater's former location in Hanna Hall.

First it was moved from its original location, and now the Gish Film Theater may lose its name.

In a message today (Feb. 20) to the university community, Bowling Green State University President Rodney Rogers said that concerns have been raised about the theater being named in part after actress Lillian Gish, whose extensive credits on film, stage, and television, include starring in “Birth of a Nation.”

The 1915  film by D.W. Griffith celebrates the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and is cited as a factor of the revival of the Klan in the early 20th century.

Last week, he wrote, members of the Black Student Union approached the administration “about the propriety of the naming.”

In his statement, Rogers wrote: “The film … is widely recognized as racist and discriminatory, advancing and inflaming the prejudicial stereotypes of the time period. The controversial film and its commercial success is believed to have helped revive the Ku Klux Klan. … I can unequivocally affirm that the values and the views expressed in the film do not align with those of Bowling Green State University.”

The Black Student Union will host a town hall at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, in 210 Mathematical Sciences Building to discuss the issue. 

The theater was named for Gish in 1976 after the auditorium in Hanna Hall was transformed as a home for the university’s growing film program.

Lillian Gish visited at that time, the first of four visits to campus. She had  insisted that the theater be named for her sister, Dorothy, also a renowned actress. The Gish sisters were born in Springfield, Ohio, to an actress and made their stage debuts in Risingsun.

All this seemed good reason to English Professor Ralph Wolfe  for the theater to be named for them. Wolfe was the guiding light behind the development of the theater and opposed moving to make way for the Maurer Center, which will be the home for the College of Business.

Rogers said he has asked Dean Ray Craig, of the College of Arts and Sciences, to lead a task force of students, faculty, staff and “other University stakeholders” to make recommendation before the Board of Trustees meeting in May.

A rededication ceremony scheduled to be held March 29 will not be held “so we can explore these issues,” David Kielmeyer, university spokesman said. BGSU graduate and Oscar-winning actress Eva Marie Saint was to participate in the event. Saint and Lillian Gish performed together in the television version of “The Trip to Bountiful.”

Kielmeyer said: “We are currently finalizing details for another event, featuring Eva Marie Saint and our students, to take place on March 29 in the Wolfe Center for the Performing Arts. Seating for the event will be limited. We’ll provide more details soon.”

— David Dupont, BG Independent News

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