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Wexner Center series finale emphasises diversity in film

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The Wexner Center for the Arts will conclude its five-night series, “Witness: Black Independent Film,” on Thursday with a screening of the blaxploitation classic, “Ganja & Hess.”

During its limited run, “Witness” has shown six independent films directed by African-American filmmakers. The series began with Spike Lee’s directorial debut, “She’s Gotta Have It,” and has continued to showcase directors such as Charles Burnett, Arthur Jaffa and Kathleen Collins.

“So far the films have been really enthusiastically received,” said Chris Stults, associate curator for film and video at the Wex. “I think it’s a long overdue series that people want to see.”

According to Stults, the selected films were chosen based on their narratives of social issues and realities of being an African American not only in today’s culture but also in years past. The films selected aim to educate and entertain.

But choosing films for the series was not an easy task.

“We could have done a series that included three to four hundred films, but we only had five or six nights of screenings that we could do,” Stults said.

Simone Drake, an associate professor of African-American studies at Ohio State, thinks this is an opportunity for those who are unfamiliar with black independent film to become acquainted with the genre.

“My hope is that this film series will offer those who are not aware of the diversity of black film production the opportunity to be exposed to themes and styles different from mainstream cinema,” Drake said.

Stults commented on the recent controversy surrounding the lack of diversity of the Academy Award nominations.

“Real change isn’t going to occur until there is more diversity in positions of power within the studios. Yeah, changing the voting body is a great start. The Oscars just need to be taken less seriously in general. I don’t know how it ever became that that’s an actual benchmark of quality,” he said.

While the original intent for the film series was not necessarily in direct response to the Oscars, Stults acknowledged that it was apt timing.

“Just seems like a good moment to revisit this history and see how it reflects on present day,” Stults said.

“Ganja & Hess” will screen at 7 p.m. in the Film/Video Theater in the Wexner Center on Thursday. Admission is $6 for students.

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