African Diaspora Film Club | RALPH ELLISON: AN AMERICAN JOURNEY
Join us for our monthly series, The African Diaspora Film Club. Modeled after our African Book Club, we will meet once a month to discuss a film that we have all viewed in advance of the discussion. The conversation will be moderated by Cornelius Moore, co-director of California Newsreel and film series curator at MoAD. We will be choosing a selection of films, some previously screened at MoAD. You may have already seen it, or this may be your first introduction. In either case, join us on the second Sunday of the month for a lively discussion of the film.
This month’s selection is RALPH ELLISON: AN AMERICAN JOURNEY (Avon Kirkland, 2002, 87 mins). You will receive instructions to join via zoom after you sign up here. Look for an email from MoAD after you sign up, if you don’t receive it in your inbox, look in your spam or junk mail.
Ralph Ellison: An American Journey is the first documentary on one of the most gifted and intellectually provocative authors of modern American literature. It establishes Ellison as a central figure in contemporary debates over art, politics, race and nationhood. Narrated by Andre Braugher, the film brilliantly presents the first scenes ever filmed from Ellison’s landmark novel, Invisible Man.
This richly symbolic, ironic, and often surreal novel describes a quest much like Ellison’s own to invent an identity independent of that imposed by society. Winner of the 1953 National Book Award, Invisible Man thrust Ellison not only into prominence but also into the vortex of the battles raging over the role of literature and art in politics, and specifically over Ellison’s rejection of the “protest novel.”
Black Arts activists of the 1960s and 1970s condemned Ellison’s integrationist stance and “disengaged voice.” In Ralph Ellison: An American Journey, Cornel West, Amiri Baraka, Stanley Crouch, Terrance Rafferty and other cultural critics, reconstruct those debates and discuss the roles and responsibilities of a “Negro writer.” The film explores the many ways one of our most important writers and thinkers grappled with the question: “What does it mean to be an American?”
Producer, Writer and Director Avon Kirkland will join us for the discussion.
Avon Kirkland survived a poverty-stricken childhood in the Deep South to graduate from Clark Atlanta University and Washington University in St. Louis (Ph D, Chemistry, 1964). After working as a scientist and publishing executive he decided to pursue an unlikely career in television in 1974. His goal as a producer/director/writer was to counter commercial network depictions of negative Black stereotypes and develop realistic programs that explore the rich history and culture of African Americans and their pivotal contributions to the American democratic experiment.
Kirkland wrote, directed and produced Ralph Ellison: An American Journey, a feature-length documentary about the author of the classic American novel, Invisible Man. The program was an official selection of the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. It was broadcast on PBS by the Emmy Award winning series, AMERICAN MASTERS and received a rave review in the New York Times and elsewhere.
Among the many honors he has received, Kirkland is proudest of one bestowed by Morehouse College, an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters in 2005 for his works featuring the lives and achievements of African American leaders. Kirkland is currently retired and lives in Berkeley, California.
Read a review of RALPH ELLISON: AN AMERICAN JOURNEY in The New York Times
Learn more about the film and filmmaker at this American Masters website.