Task Force recommends renaming Gish Theater

Renaming of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Theater is at the top of recommendations submitted to Bowling
Green State University President Rodney Rogers.
The Task Force on the Gish Film Theater submitted its report April 17 to Rogers. He is now reviewing the
report “and considering its recommendations while also discussing and sharing the task force’s work with
our various constituencies. Following those conversations, I will share my recommendations with our
broader University community,” he wrote on The Task Force on the Gish Film Theater link on his online
Office of the President page.
The report acknowledged the recent source of the theater name controversy.
The BGSU Black Student Union showed Ava DuVernay’s film “13th” as part of Black History Month
celebrations. In that film, clips from the 1915 D.W. Griffith movie “The Birth of a Nation” were used as
part of discussions of racism in America. Lillian Gish was the star of Griffith’s film.
The report states, on Feb. 10, the “BSU noted the irony of showing ‘13th’ in a theater named for the star
of ‘The Birth of a Nation’ and brought to the university’s attention the problematic nature of the Gish
name for BGSU’s African American students.”
The Task Force was formed as a result of the BSU request for a change to the theater name. The Task Force
was led by Raymond Craig, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and included 11 others representing
faculty, administrative staff and students, meeting over a period of six weeks.
For more than 40 years, the theater was located in Hanna Hall. In 2017, the decision was made to move the
theater to the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. It is that more-prominent location that has helped spur on
the controversy.
BGSU has a policy for naming facilities and part of that policy is consideration of whether the name
“calls into question the public respect of the university.”
A wide array of individuals and historical materials were used in research and discussion by the Task
Force. Prominently noted was the Director’s Guild of America and the retirement of the D.W. Griffith
Award in 1999. In the organization’s statement, it noted “There is no question that D.W. Griffith was a
brilliant pioneer filmmaker,” but “It is also true that he helped foster intolerable racial
stereotypes.”
As part of the first of seven Task Force findings, it was noted that “The reference to ‘The Birth of a
Nation’ and the images of Lillian Gish in the display area outside the theater contribute to an
intimidating, even hostile, educational environment. The display, with its oversize images and text, are
prominent in a well-used space and evoke the film and its racist legacy.”
The report acknowledges that “Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish do not appear to have been advocates for
racist or exclusionary practices or perspectives.”
In a nod to the theater’s founder, Ralph Haven Wolfe, the Task Force stated “removing the Gish name from
the theater in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union should not be perceived as an attempt to erase history.
Nor should it be seen as being disrespectful to the Gish sisters or to Dr. Ralph Haven Wolfe.”
Regardless of the more than 100 films she is credited in, it is also noted that “her image evokes and
embodies the racism explicit in ‘The Birth of a Nation.”’ Clips of her image, with members of the Ku
Klux Klan, were also used as part of recruiting tools for the organization.
Closing out the statement of acceptance of the report, Rogers wrote “Building a just learning community
requires effort and commitment by each of us. I’m proud of the way our community has come together to
discuss and explore these issues in a thoughtful and respectful way.”