Havoc continues throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa ignited by the debasing stereotypes and grotesque portrayals depicted in the film, Innocence of Islam. Not since the release of Birth of a Nation has a film become so inflammatory. In 1915 the NAACP led peaceful protests denouncing the film that was causing riots and lynchings across our nation.
On Sunday, September 16, 2012 Josh Lederman of the Associate Press reported as follows:
What started with protesters scaling the embassy wall in Cairo on Tuesday over an amateurish video deriding Islam's holiest figure has mushroomed into a maelstrom of disquiet throughout the Muslim world. In Libya, U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed when protesters stormed the consulate in Benghazi. Anti-U.S. protests in 20 countries led the Pentagon to dispatch elite Marine antiterrorism teams to Libya and Yemen and to position two Navy warships off Libya's coast.
Bloggers and Sunday morning news commentators debate and argue about whether the filmmakers should be held accountable for the eruption of violence caused by the film. After all they have the right to free speech. While we defend free speech there is a responsibility that comes with that right. In 1915 the NAACP sought injunctions against the distribution of The Birth of a Nation calling it a threat to public safety. So today the NAACP cannot remain silent. We must condemn this hateful destructive piece of propaganda.
The tragic loss of life reminds us not only of the volatility of closely held thoughts and beliefs but also about the power of film to influence and ignite them. History has shown us repeatedly that media — and most powerfully — visual media, has a direct effect on culture and human behavior.
When Birth of Nation portrayed the KKK as heroes defending white virtue, it increased the membership of the KKK and perpetuated negative stereotypes of African American that would last generations. Lamentably, some of these stereotypes still resonate today. Thus, the NAACP’s continuing endeavors to affect the portrayals of minorities in film and television have never been more critical, given that media giants now beam powerful images throughout the world, shaping our beliefs, opinions and decisions.
What the people of the Middle East, North Africa and around the world need to understand is that most Americans are insulted by this film and that minorities in America continue to advocate for fair representation in the media.
So, we urge the people and the leaders of the Muslim world to protest in peace and join us in a constructive dialogue about the power of the media in shaping the world in which we all aspire to live — a world of inclusion, understanding and tolerance.
Those living under repressive regimes must understand that freedom of speech is one of our democracy’s founding principals. Conversely, we as a free people must understand the power of that speech and that we have the right and the responsibility to condemn those who would abuse it.
So, we urge those in the entertainment and communication industries to reflect on the power of the images that are created in our mass media on a daily basis.
Images that were once carried in film canisters and driven over roads from theater to theater are now transported on the worldwide web by the click of a button. In this age of new media, let’s hope the messaging we have been seeing online through Facebook and YouTube from concerned Americans of every race, religion and gender will be viewed and heard by the rest of the world so that they know that we as a nation advocate and appeal for "the birth of tolerance."
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Executive Director, NAACP Hollywood Bureau