Conversation with Filmmaker Charles Burnett

Charles Burnett

Thursday February 16, 2017
CFL Main Hall

            DECORAH, IOWA—Acclaimed film director Charles Burnett will join Novian Whitsitt, Luther College professor of Africana studies and English, for a conversation on African Americans in cinema at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, in Luther's Center for Faith and Life Main Hall.

            The event, sponsored by Luther's Africana Studies Department, Paideia Endowment, Diversity Council, Sustainability, Student Activities Council: Cinema, Just Action and Black Student Union, is open to the public with no charge for admission.

            Part of Luther's observation of Black History Month, Burnett and Whitsitt's conversation will focus on Burnett's award-winning documentary, "Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property," and the new Nate Parker fictional film on the same subject, "Birth of a Nation."

            Luther will host an on-campus screening of Burnett's film at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in the Franklin W. Olin Building Room 102. The screening is open to the public with no charge for admission.

            A highly contested moment in history, Burnett's documentary explores the competing interpretations of the Virginia slave revolt led by Nat Turner in 1831. Parker's film, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, is a recent dramatization of the same events.

            In his onstage conversation with Whitsitt, he will discuss the ways he decided to stage competing interpretations of the revolt for the film, the way a variety of Americans have drawn different meanings from the revolt since its occurrence and how this historical event applies in conversations about current racial injustice.

            Writer-director Burnett was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. He later studied creative writing and film at the University of California Los Angeles.  

            Regarded as a prolific filmmaker, Burnett's titles include "Killer of Sheep," "My Brother's Wedding," "To Sleep with Anger," "Nightjohn," "Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Wedding," "Selma, Lord Selma," "Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property" and an episode of the seven-part series, "Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues."

            He has been granted awards from The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and The J.P. Getty Foundation. Recently, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City showcased his work in a month-long retrospective.

            Whitsitt is a professor of Africana studies and English at Luther.  He regularly teaches courses in African-American literature, the North American slave narrative and literature of the African peoples. He holds a Bachelor of Science in International Relations from Stanford University, a Master of Arts in African Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Doctor of Philosophy in African Languages and Literature from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

            A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,150, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the bachelor of arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college's website: