James Earl Jones is among more than 50 Hollywood stars pushing back on Bowling Green State University for removing the name of an actress in the 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation” from a campus theater.
The Ohio college renamed its Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater this May after student groups protested its namesake Lillian Gish, best known for starring in “The Birth of A Nation.” The 1915 film is credited with spurring the Ku Klux Klan’s U.S. revival.
Now, Indie Wire reports that Jones, along with Hollywood artists, historians, actors and directors including Helen Mirren and Martin Scorsese, are petitioning Bowling Green State to restore the theater’s name.
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The petition, created by “The Whales of August” producer Mike Kaplan, calls the removal of the Gish sisters’ names “unfortunate and unjust,” according to a copy of the letter from BG Independent Media. Dorothy Gish, Lillian’s sister and the theater’s other namesake, was an actor as well, but did not act in “The Birth of a Nation.” The Gish sisters were born in Springfield, Ohio.
While the letter acknowledges the racism of “The Birth of a Nation,” Kaplan writes that “Lillian was no racist,” and notes that she went on to star in more inclusive films.
The letter also argues that Lillian Gish’s accomplishments and contributions to film outweigh her starring role in the racist film.
In response, Bowling Green State has said it won’t be reversing its decision to remove the theater’s name, and that its duty to the best interest of an inclusive environment “outweighs the University’s small part in honoring the Gish sisters’ legacy.”
“The decision to remove the Gish name from the relocated film theater was made with the values and best interests of our community in mind, and we stand by it,” Bowling Green’s statement reads.