History of movie censorship in Atlanta kicks off "Memorial Drive" series

By Emory Libraries | Jan. 24, 2017

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Matthew Bernstein, chair of Emory’s Department of Film & Media Studies, will discuss “Controlling Atlanta Screens: Movie Censorship from the 1920s to the 1960s” on Thursday, Jan. 26, Courtesy photo.

Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library will host the first event in its 2017 “Memorial Drive” series with a program about two dynamic women who decided what films would be shown or banned in Atlanta movie theaters for four decades.

Matthew H. Bernstein, Goodrich C. White professor and chair of Emory’s Department of Film & Media Studies, will discuss “Controlling Atlanta Screens: Movie Censorship from the 1920s to the 1960s” on Thursday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m. at the Robert W. Woodruff Library on the Emory campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The event leads off the 2017 “Memorial Drive” series, a collaboration between ArtsATL.com and the Rose Library that explores the cultural history of Atlanta.

“I am excited about the second season of ‘Memorial Drive,’ ” says series coordinator Randy Gue, curator of modern political and historical collections at the Rose Library. “The series unites the Rose Library's unique collections about Atlanta and its past with ArtsATL.com's in-depth coverage of the arts and creativity in the metropolitan area."

Bernstein’s talk will explore the influence of Mrs. Alonzo Richardson and her successor, Christine Smith Gilliam, who were duty-bound to ban films that depicted unpunished crime or illicit sex as outlined by Hollywood’s Production Code. As movies grew more violent and morally ambiguous, the two women had their hands full, but they were equally focused on barring any depiction of social equality between the races.

“‘Controlling Atlanta's Screens’ is the perfect way to kick off this year's programs,” Gue says. “Matthew H. Bernstein and the late Dana F. White [Atlanta historian and Goodrich C. White Professor Emeritus of American Studies at Emory] spent the past 20 years unearthing the fascinating — and sometime troubling — history of moviegoing in Atlanta with their 'Segregated Cinema' project. One of the remarkable things they rediscovered was that for 40 years, Atlanta had a movie censor, an official who decided what could and couldn't be shown in theaters across the city.

“Dana was scheduled to be a part of this talk before he passed away in November,” Gue added. “We decided to honor him on Jan. 26 because it was his kind of event — an opportunity to tell stories about Atlanta.”

The event will take place in the Jones Room on Level 3 of Emory’s Woodruff Library, located at 540 Asbury Circle in Atlanta, 30322. Parking is available in the Fishburne deck.