Filmmaker FREDERICK LEWIS presents his feature length documentary Paul Laurence Dunbar: Beyond The Mask, a film about the life and legacy of the first African American writer to gain international fame. Screening followed by a discussion.
Born to former slaves in Dayton, Ohio, where he was boyhood friends with the Wright Brothers, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) is best remembered for his poem “We Wear The Mask” and for lines from “Sympathy” that became the title of Maya Angelou’s famous autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” A clip of Angelou reciting Dunbar’s poem is featured in the film.
Dunbar’s story strongly reflects the African American experience around the turn of the century. The man abolitionist Frederick Douglass called “the most promising young colored man in America” wrote widely published essays critical of Jim Crow laws, lynching and what was commonly called “The Negro Problem.” To earn a living, however, he also wrote poems and short stories in “Plantation dialect” and contributed lyrics for Broadway musicals that bordered on blackface minstrelsy.
More than eight years in the making, “Beyond The Mask” received major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Writer, director and co-producer FREDERICK LEWIS is a professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies at Ohio University. His previous documentaries have been seen on PBS stations throughout the U.S. and been screened at more than 90 cultural/educational venues, including the National Gallery of Art, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the Lake Placid Film Forum and the Explorers Club in NYC. Professor Lewis is a recipient of the Presidential Teacher Award, Ohio University’s highest honor for transformative teaching, curriculum innovation and mentoring. He has served as a Fulbright Specialist in Hungary and has taught or lectured in England, Germany, France, Malaysia and Vietnam.