Independent Lens, a weekly show on PBS and ITVS highlighting the work of independent filmmakers, will feature More Than A Month, a documentary by Shukree Tilghman as part of its celebration of Black History Month.  Tilghman addresses Black History Month itself in the film, advocating the abolishment  of Black History Month so as not to designate black history as a separate (and minor) footnote to history itself.  For this, the film has been called ‘controversial’ and ‘provocative,’ – dynamics which Tilghman also explores in the film.

The argument has been advanced before; Tilghman says that Morgan’s Freeman’s criticism of Black History Month was pivotal “because someone else said what I was thinking in public.”

And yet, Tilghman’s campaign to end Black History Month, “meant to be provocative more than practical” according to Tom Jacobs of Miller-McCune, is more of a way of interrogating the various dynamics of marking (cordoning off?) black history in the particular way that we do.  In an interview with Marco Williams (who produced More Than A Month),  Tilghman explains:

[The film]begins with a question of ‘Should we have Black History Month?’ and it really through the middle becomes ‘What does it mean that we have a Black History Month?’ and then as we go further along – ‘What would it mean if we didn’t have it? What would that say about us as Americans and how we view each other in 2011?’

Filmmaker Shukree Tilghman wearing protest sign in Harlem. Credit: Antonio Caton

These questions take Tilghman to many (and surprising) places: from his parents’ house to Harvard, from a Sons of Confederate Soldiers gathering (they’re working to establish Confederate History Month in Virginia) to the Philadelphia Public Schools, who have made a yearlong African American History course a requirement for high school graduation.

Tom Jacobs comments  that “Tilghman’s a great guide on this journey: he’s genuinely troubled by the questions he raises, but he’s also unpretentious, quizzical, and, at times, bemused.”

From the press release from ITVS:  “At its core, More Than a Month is about what it means to be an American, to fight for one’s rightful place in the American landscape, however unconventional the means, even at the risk of ridicule or misunderstanding. In that way, it is about the universal endeavor to discover one’s self.”

Before the premiere of the film on February 16th at 10PM on PBS and ITVS, there are several screenings around the country, including the Missouri History Museum,  the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and the Schomburg Museum in New York, among others.

See clips of the film here and here.

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