Agents of Change

Agents of Change (PAFF 2016)
Director: Abby Ginzberg & Frank Dawson

The images still hold a charge: graphic footage of student demonstrators at San Francisco State in 1968 being beaten and arrested by police and the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo the following year of black students with rifles emerging from the Cornell University student union building they had briefly occupied. These images are the entry points to a powerful but little-known civil rights story: the struggle that erupted for more inclusive and meaningful higher education across America at the end of a tumultuous decade. The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision mandated the integration of American schools “with all deliberate speed.” It wasn’t until the late 1960s that a critical mass of African American students began entering the nation’s colleges and universities. Agents of Change tells the story of what they encountered, how they responded, and the continuing impact of the dramatic confrontations that followed. Instead of being accepted as they were, incoming Black students were expected to shed their identities and assimilate mentally as well as socially into ‘lily white’ college campuses. Many students dealt with racial slurs, taunts, and threats from faculty as well as from other students. Denied facilities and services provided to white classmates, they were often the recipients of unfair campus judicial proceedings. But they refused to take these provocations lying down. They organized, protested, negotiated, and transformed their schools. Agents of Change introduces a cast of largely unrecognized but remarkable characters, whose commitment to justice and equality paved the way for the opportunities that followed, while also reminding viewers about the work yet to be done to achieve full equity and dignity on campus and in society. How is it that so much and so little has changed? This film helps answer that question.

Sponsored by Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center
PAFF 2016 Best Documentary
PAFF 2016 Audience Award-Documentary