Exploring the “Heart of Blackness”

Jake Homiak, director of the Anthropology Collections and Archives Program at the Museum of Natural History, introduces the Washington premiere of the documentary “Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness,” Thursday, Oct. 8, in the Baird Auditorium at the Natural History Museum. A discussion with filmmakers and scholars follows the screening. The presentation begins at 3:00 p.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m.

Winner of Best Documentary at the 2009 Hollywood Black Film Festival, “Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness” examines the career of Melville J. Herskovits, the pioneering American anthropologist and controversial intellectual who established the first African studies department at an American university and wrote “The Myth of the Negro Past.” Brilliant, ambitious, high-minded, manipulative, pioneering—the meaning of Herskovits as a scholar raises questions powerfully relevant today: Who has access to the production of knowledge? What is objective study and when does it become politicized? What happens when the scholar becomes the powerbroker? What are the consequences when we deny a people the right to define themselves?

A panel discussion moderated by Mary Jo Arnoldi, curator of African Ethnology at the museum, will include:

  • Johnnetta Cole, director, Museum of African Art;
  • Diana N’Diaye, curator, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage;
  • Vincent Brown, film producer/director of research and professor of history, Harvard University;
  • Llew Smith, producer/director, “Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness,” Vital Pictures; and
  • Christine Herbes-Sommers, executive producer, “Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness,” Vital Pictures.

This event is free and open to the public.

Posted: 7 October 2009
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One Response to Exploring the “Heart of Blackness”
    • Pam Wintle
    • Please be advised that this remarkable documentary uses Herskovits’ own historical film footage preserved and archived in the Human Studies Film Archives and still photographs from the National Anthropological Archives. In fact, the opening shot is from the Herskovits collection in the HSFA. The film footage was beautifully preserved with a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation and The Pew Charitble Trust.