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Arts & Culture

INDEPENDENT LENS: More Than A Month

Director Shukree Tilghman in Philadelphia.
Courtesy of Thiago Da Costa
Director Shukree Tilghman in Philadelphia.

Airs Monday, January 13, 2014 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Should Black History Month be ended? That’s the question explored by African American filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman as he embarks on a cross-country campaign to do just that. Both amusing and thought provoking, "More Than A Month" examines what the treatment of history tells us about race and power in contemporary America. Written and directed by Tilghman, "More Than a Month" premieres on the Emmy® Award-winning PBS series INDEPENDENT LENS, hosted by Mary Louise Parker.

Filmmaker Shukree Tilghman wearing protest sign that reads "End Black History Month" in Harlem.
Courtesy of Antonio Caton
Filmmaker Shukree Tilghman wearing protest sign that reads "End Black History Month" in Harlem.
Director Shukree Tilghman with his mother.
Courtesy of Thiago Da Costa
Director Shukree Tilghman with his mother.
Director Shukree Tilghman with Brandon Dorsey, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Courtesy of Thiago Da Costa
Director Shukree Tilghman with Brandon Dorsey, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

More Than A Mapp

More Than a Mapp is a free iPhone and iPod app that allows users to discover and contribute to the African American history that exists all around us. The location-enabled application can reveal sites of significance to black history in your city, and allows you to upload map points of your own. The crowd-sourced and moderated data will grow to reveal that history doesn’t just live in books; it has a presence in the everyday places we find ourselves. Download the app from iTunes

The film takes the form of a road trip that begins in Washington, D.C., crisscrosses the country during Black History Month 2010, and ends with an epilogue one year later. Combining cinema verité, man-on-the-street interviews, and inspired dramatizations, the film is a first-person narrative of the filmmaker’s quest to understand the implications of Black History Month.

Tilghman begins his research at home, but finds his parents dismayed when he suggests eliminating Black History Month. He then seeks a deeper understanding of Carter G. Woodson, the creator of Negro History Week, the predecessor to Black History Month. To this end, he reaches out to Woodson’s organization, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. They too respond with horror at his suggestion.

At Harvard, Tilghman collaborates on a psychological study exploring how Black History Month makes blacks and whites feel about themselves and their place in American history. And in Chicago, Tilghman visits Burrell Communications, the nation’s largest black owned advertising agency, to investigate whether corporate sponsorship and advertisements during Black History Month are just an excuse to sell products to black consumers.

Exploring history itself — how we treat it, how we value it — also shapes the narrative. Tilghman talks with members of a Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter in Lexington, Virginia, who are seeking to establish Confederate History month. And in Philadelphia, he speaks with school officials who have made African American history a graduation requirement, ensuring that courses are taught.

At its core, "More Than A Month" is about what it means to be an American, to fight for one's rightful place in the American landscape, however unconventional the means, even at the risk of ridicule or misunderstanding. In that way, it is about the universal endeavor to discover one's self.

The film asks the questions: How do we justify teaching American history as somehow separate from African American history? What does it mean that we have a Black History Month? What would it mean if we didn’t?

This film originally aired in 2012.

Past episodes of INDEPENDENT LENS are available for online viewing. INDEPENDENT LENS is on Facebook, and you can follow @IndependentLens on Twitter. Shukree Hassan Tilghman is on Facebook.

Independent Lens: More Than A Month Trailer
More Than A Month: Video Excerpt: African American History
More Than A Month: Video Excerpt
More Than a Mapp

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