Monday, March 25

Documentary “˜The People Speak’ shares message of power of the people


History Channel's celebrity-filled "˜The People Speak' sees preview at Schoenberg

Actor Josh Brolin (“W.,” “Milk”) and producer Chris Moore (“Good Will Hunting”) visited Schoenberg Hall on Dec. 4 to preview and discuss The History Channel’s documentary “The People Speak,” which will premiere Dec. 13.

“On a project like this, (college students) represent most directly who we want to affect. We are trying to get young people around the country to reconnect to the history of the country that’s about dissent and questioning authority,” Moore said.

The event opened with Brolin performing a live reading of abolitionist John Brown’s “Last Speech.” He was followed by a trailer for the television special featuring a slew of well-known actors and musicians, including Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman and Marisa Tomei, reciting various historical documents from Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” upon which “The People Speak” is based.

Both Moore and Brolin emphasized Zinn’s message that history is made by ordinary people.

“Any movement in history was instigated by us, not (the government),” Brolin said.

Moore introduced several film clips with a brief description of how his work on the film “Good Will Hunting” brought widespread attention to Zinn’s book. He discussed how this connection led him to become a producer on the project after the success of several live readings done to celebrate the book’s 1 millionth copy.

“It’s been very inspiring to work on, and very genuine,” Moore said.

Clips shown included Brolin performing an excerpt of screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun,” Don Cheadle reading Frederick Douglass’ “West India Emancipation,” and John Legend singing Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.”

Afterward, Brolin and Moore were joined on stage by UCLA history professor Ellen DuBois, who moderated a Q&A with the audience. They discussed the film’s tagline, “Democracy is not a spectator sport,” and how it related to the overall goal of the project: to inspire and encourage people to go out and be active in creating change.

“We’re turning a blind eye, watching TV and getting lazy. I’m getting lazy,” Moore said. “This encourages us to get out and have ourselves be heard.”

Angelica Stoddard, a third-year history student, asked about the difference between the way “The People Speak” teaches history through ordinary people’s stories and The History Channel’s usual programming on major historical events.

“The History Channel influences perception of the history field, and I’m interested in how the public perceives my field,” Stoddard said. “I also want to teach, so I’m interested in the approach The History Channel has toward teaching history.”

While most of the audience questions were supportive of the concept of having actors and musicians reciting historical documents, one woman questioned the need to use celebrities in order to have an effect on viewers.

“It’s a little sad that people watch because of famous people, but at least they’re watching,” Brolin said.

Moore was adamant about having performers who had gone out and done something to try and make a difference before they were a part of the project.

He also spoke about the project’s version of patriotism. He cited his experience touring with recording artist Lupe Fiasco, also featured in the film, who had told audiences that the project had finally made him proud to say he was an American.

“If it’s one Lupe at a time, then it’s worth it for me,” Moore said.

The event ended with a film excerpt of poet Staceyann Chin’s animated performance of poet and novelist Marge Piercy’s “The Low Road.”

“It goes one at a time. It starts when you care to act. It starts when you do it again after they say no. It starts when you say “˜we’ and know who you mean; and each day you mean one more,” Chin said.

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