BY HANK REICHMAN
Agents of Change, the documentary film about the student movements for ethnic studies at Cornell and San Francisco State Universities in the late ’60s and early ’70s, had its world premiere last week at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. A rough cut of the film was previously screened to an enthusiastic audience at AAUP’s 2015 Summer Institute in Denver and the AAUP Foundation subsequently donated $5,000 to help ensure the film’s timely completion.
In Los Angeles the film won both the Jury and the Audience Awards for best Feature Documentary. Filmmakers Frank Dawson and Abby Ginzberg were joined at the Opening Night by four of the activists from SF State who are featured in the film-Ramona Tascoe, Jimmy Garrett, Benny Stewart and Jaheed Ashley. A second screening was sponsored by Black Lives Matter-LA and was attended by a number of young activists linking the generations.
At both Cornell and SF State students joined together in the struggle for more diversity in curriculum, a precursor to recent protests based on similar issues by students at such schools as the University of Missouri and Yale. Unfortunately, said Dawson, there has been little significant change in the intervening decades.
“A lot of the change has been more cosmetic and really addressing the symptoms as opposed to really dealing with the underlying issues,” said Dawson, who, along with Ginzberg, participated in protests at Cornell in the ’60s. “The major underlying issue is that, in large part, the institutions themselves have not changed. People come in and change, but because the institutions haven’t changed, the issues continue to prevail.”
Ginzberg says the film has a resounding message that both student protesters and broader Black Lives Matter proponents can learn. “No victory is ever secure,” she said. “If you’re not totally vigilant about making sure those changes are enforced and continued and that there’s a commitment, in 30 years, it’ll go away again.”
Agents of Change continues to seek donations to support additional screenings, including at colleges and universities nationwide. Several AAUP chapters have already joined with others on their campuses to sponsor showings of the film, including next week at the University of Connecticut. If you or your chapter are interested in arranging a screening of the film contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.