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Education

Town Destroyer

Sarasota Film Festival 2023

TOWN DESTROYER explores the ways we look at art and history at a time of racial reckoning. The story focuses on a dispute over historic murals depicting the life of George Washington: slaveowner, general, land speculator, President, and a man Seneca leaders called “Town Destroyer” after he ordered their villages destroyed during the Revolutionary War. The murals, at San Francisco’s George Washington High School, were painted in 1936 by left-wing artist Victor Arnautoff, a student of Diego Rivera. The murals both praise Washington and–rare for the time—critically depict him overseeing his slaves and directing the bloody seizure of Native lands. Most controversial is a provocative image of a dead Indian–life-size, eye-level, and at the center of the school. Opponents of the murals–led by Native American parents–demand the School Board order them painted over. For them, the murals’ graphic depictions of slavery and genocide are racist and harm students, Native students in particular. Defenders of the murals warn of the dangers of censoring priceless works of art, and urge the Board to ‘teach the murals.’ Heated debates spill into the community and make national headlines.

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