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On July 15, USA cable channel began broadcasting a six episode television series, Political Animals, produced by Greg Berlanti, Laurence Mark, and Warner Brothers television. According to advertisements for the show, Vanessa Redgrave will play a fictional character who is the first openly lesbian Supreme Court Justice. This character is expected to appear for the first time on July 29. The character will be named Diane Nash.
Advertising for the show contains the following lead-in, "Redgrave will guest star on USA's Political Animals. Her character will turn heads: Redgrave will play Diane Nash, a lesbian Supreme Court Justice."
In an email to my attorney, a representative of the producers of the program said they researched the name Diane Nash, which makes it evident that they are aware of my work in the Civil Rights Movement and that they did not just choose the name randomly.
Many people confuse fiction that they see on television and on film with fact. If this series used my name to portray a rocket scientist or a doctor, or a person of any racial grouping other than African American, I would object.
One of the fundamental tenets of nonviolence is truth. I do not wish to be defined in any way that is not truthful. My work in the 1960s was being part of a movement that advanced desegregation through nonviolent direct action.
Since I was centrally involved in that movement, this misuse of my name does not affect only me personally; it affects the history of the civil rights movement.
I never gave consent for the appropriation of my name for a commercial purpose.
I cannot compete with large corporations legally because my financial resources do not compare with theirs; they could file endless motions, pleadings, etc. and rack up enormous amounts of money in legal fees that I could not possibly pay.
I do not know if using my name in this manner is legal; I do know that it is wrong. Segregation and slavery were once legal, but they were wrong.
In the 1960s, descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States made significant social change without killing and maiming our fellow human beings. There should be respect for African-American people for a movement well conducted.
Unfortunately, there are persons who feel entitled to use for their own purposes, anything of value that Black people produce. This action on the part of all who are connected with this television program is in the same tradition as slavery that appropriated the value of the labor of slaves; as Europeans and Americans who have looted Africa for centuries, but, had the public relations power so they were not labeled looters; as the music distributors who became rich because they appropriated for themselves the value produced by the Black composers and artists who created that music and remained impoverished; and as a myriad of deeds that continue to the present. Claud Anderson documents a great deal of this institution of theft in his book, Black Labor, White Wealth.
The history of the Civil Rights Movement should be allowed to survive unconfused. It is critical that history survive intact and with truth; history's most important function is to help us shape the present and future. Young Black Americans and young White Americans should not be robbed of accurate history. This action on the part of the USA network and everyone involved with this show is disrespectful of the freedom struggle of African Americans. Reprehensible.
For those who want more information, here is a link advertising the program: www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/vanessa-redgrave-political-animals-332232
Some of my friends have said that to protest this use of my name will please the network because it will result in increased viewership; however, the viewership that they will have with no action on my part is sufficient to damage the history of the movement. I want to let people know that this exploitation is happening. Let the record show that I object to what I believe to be an assault against a valuable history that was produced by the labor, sacrifice and spilling of blood of many Black people and some White people who helped us. I object to persons who did not invest in the making of that history taking an element of it and using it for their own economic benefit.
Finally, recording, protecting, and preserving our history is the responsibility of each of us. When young people attempt to discover their history it should be clear, accurate and accessible. It should not be obscured and falsified. It is a mistake to allow the sacrifice of something of great and profound value for something of very little value — a television show that someone wants to be trendy or gimmicky.
If you agree with this statement, please email me and let me know. If you participated in the Civil Rights Movement, please so indicate in your email. And, please circulate this statement widely among your friends and contacts.
Copyright © 2012, Diane Nash
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