The man who would abolish Black History Month
At first blush, Shukree Hassan Tilghman might seem an unlikely speaker during the Harvey B. Gantt Center’s celebration of Black History Month.
For more than a year, the independent filmmaker has been criss-crossing the nation pushing for an end to the annual 28-day commemoration.
His 2012 documentary, “More Than A Month,” follows his exploits.
It’s not that Tilghman (pronounced Till-man) doesn’t appreciate black history. He simply believes, as do many others, that the contributions of African Americans to the U.S. fabric are far too broad and far too numerous to confine to the year’s shortest month.
“I really loved Black History Month as a kid,” he told Qitymetro.com during an interview at the Gantt Center, where on Tuesday he screened his film. “It wasn’t until I became late high school, early adult, that I began to question…what it meant to have this history celebrated, exposed and seemingly confined to this month.”
Catherine McElvane, director of education and outreach at the Gantt Center, said many of the issues Tilghman raised in his film also have been discussed by Gantt Center officials, such as why calls and requests to the center come in so heavily during February but are significantly lower during the remainder of the year.
“It’s an interesting question that I have asked myself as a person who is part of an African American history organization,” she said. “I thought the question he was asking and they way he was asking it…would be interesting.”
Tilghman said some of the people he encountered during the making of the film questioned his sincerity, if not his sanity, and one of the film’s classic scenes, he said, was the moment when he told his father about his intentions.
“If for no other reason, people should see the film for that,” he said. “We came up against all kinds of resistance.”
Tilghman described the film as a personal journey.
“Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t an either/or proposition,” he said.
Tilghman grew up in Delaware in what he described as a “classic late ’70s, early ’80s, Afro-centrism way.” He moved to New York City in 1997 to attend college at NYU and began making the film years later during graduate school a Columbia University.
“This journey was something I hoped my parents would be proud of,” he said, “because the ultimate goal really was about making sure that the stories of African Americans was properly told. And that story can’t be thought of, can’t be perceived, as being anything apart from the story of America.”
When asked what surprised him most during the project, Tilghman paused for a minute.
“I was really surprised that nobody kicked my ass,” he finally said. “I was most surprised by that, that I didn’t get physically assaulted, that nobody took a swing.”
Tilghman estimates that about 700,000 people have seen the film, which was aired as part of the PBS Independent Lens series.
PBS will air the film for free from Feb. 25 through March 3 at www.pbs.org.
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