In celebration of Black History Month USA, this compelling documentary tells the story of Tamara Lanier, an African American woman determined to force Harvard University to cede possession of daguerreotypes of her great-great-great grandfather, an enslaved man named Renty. Following this special screening, guests will discuss the implications of this trial.
David Grubin is a director, writer, producer, and cinematographer who has produced over 100 films, ranging across history, art, poetry, and science, winning every award in the field of documentary television, including two Alfred I. Dupont awards, three George Foster Peabody prizes, five Writer’s Guild prizes, and ten Emmys.
His biographies for the PBS series American Experience – Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided; LBJ; Truman; TR: The Story of Theodore Roosevelt; and FDR – have set the standard for television biography. His five-part series for PBS – Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers – has won many awards, and the companion book, for which he was executive editor, rose to number one on The New York Times Best Sellers list, remaining on the list for 32 weeks. His award-winning independent feature film Downtown Express has been screened at festivals in America and abroad. Grubin has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, has been a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College, and is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Hamilton College.
A former chairman of the board of directors of The Film Forum, he is currently a member of the Society of American Historians, and sits on the board at Poets House. Grubin has taught documentary film producing in Columbia University’s Graduate Film Program, and has lectured on filmmaking across the country.
He has recently completed Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard, telling the story of Tamara Lanier, an African American woman determined to force Harvard University to cede possession of daguerreotypes of her great-great-great grandfather, an enslaved man named Renty. The daguerreotypes were commissioned in 1850 by a Harvard biologist to provide evidence in support of his poisonous theory of the superiority of the white race. The images remain emblematic of America’s failure to acknowledge the cruelty of slavery, the racist science that supported it and the white supremacy that continues to infect our society today. The film can be seen on Amazon, iTunes/Apple TV, Google Play, Microsoft Xbox, Vimeo, VUDU, YouTube, Amazon Home Video, and through your cable provider’s VOD offerings.
Host: Althea Legal-Miller is a Senior Lecturer in American History and Culture at Canterbury Christ Church University. She received her BA in American Studies with Year Abroad (at the University of California, Berkeley), MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures, and PhD in American Studies, all from King’s College London. Dr Legal-Miller’s scholarship has appeared in Reclaiming the Great World House: The Global Vision of Martin Luther King Jr. (University of Georgia Press, 2019) and Developments in American Politics 9 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022). She has also provided expert commentary on radio and television for the BBC and Channel 5, and teaches courses on American Studies and history.
FREE RENTY: LANIER V. HARVARD
Directed and Produced by: David Grubin
Presented by: David Grubin Productions
Director of Photography: Sam Russell
Film Editor: Deborah Peretz
Original Music: Xavier Muzik, Michael Bacon
Ariella Aïsha Azoulay
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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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