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Documentary poster for "Paul Laurence Dunbar: Beyond the Mask."

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Regional Emmy Awards presented to OHIO faculty members Frederick Lewis and Joseph Slade for Paul Laurence Dunbar Documentary

Documentary chronicles the first African American to achieve prominence as a writer


“Paul Laurence Dunbar: Beyond The Mask,” a documentary by Ohio University Media Arts Associate Professor Frederick Lewis and Media Arts Professor Emeritus, Joseph Slade, has won a regional Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Documentary from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Association of Television Arts & Sciences.

The documentary follows the life and legacy of one of the first African Americans to achieve fame as a writer. Born to former slaves in Dayton, Ohio, Dunbar is best remembered for his poem, “We Wear the Mask” and for lines from “Sympathy” that became the title of Maya Angelou’s famous autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Since his death in 1906, Dunbar has had a tremendous and enduring influence on several generations of writers and artists, Angelou being one of many.

“Winning the regional Emmy is further affirmation that the documentary will have a long life and serve as an important historical document," said Lewis, who wrote, directed and co-produced the documentary. He also noted that "Beyond the Mask" has gained national attention, airing on PBS affiliates throughout the U.S., including stations in San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

The documentary was produced through OHIO’s Central Region Humanities Center (CRHC), a center that supports scholars and teachers of regional American culture and frequently brings visiting speakers and artists to campus. The center raised all of the funding for the documentary, enlisted numerous Dunbar scholars and consultants to provide information on Dunbar’s life, and spent twelve years assembling materials from dozens of archives and individuals before the documentary could be completed.

Aside from just looking at his life, the documentary also explores the relationships with luminaries such as William Dean Howells, Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, as well as the multiple cultural legacies he left behind.

“Making this documentary on Dunbar’s life and legacies was our way of introducing the father of African American letters to modern audiences through broadcast video,” said Slade who was a co-producer and executive producer on the documentary, as well as Director of the CRHC. “We are very pleased with the Emmy, and hope that it leads to more showings on PBS and other venues.”

The 54th annual Ohio Valley Regional Emmy Awards, a chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, were presented during a black tie Gala on Aug. 18 at the Lawrenceburg Event Center in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Although they’re not the syndicated ceremony of Red Carpet fame, the Emmys awarded to regional winners are identical to those given on television’s biggest night.

"Winning an Emmy is an honor, but I'm especially proud of the fact that more than a dozen of my former students made contributions to this project," said Lewis. “Several (students) shot footage for me in Chicago, Washington, DC, New Orleans and Los Angeles. Others served as editors and helped with research. Another even wrote some of the music."

Aside from this film, Lewis has produced several other documentaries that have been seen on PBS stations throughout the U.S. and screened at more than 60 cultural/educational venues. A winner of the Presidential Teacher Award, OHIO’s highest honor for transformative teaching, curriculum innovation and mentoring, he has been a U.S. Embassy lecturer in Malaysia and Germany and a Fulbright Specialist in Hungary. He has also taught or conducted workshops at universities in France, England, Ukraine, Romania and Vietnam.

Slade has chaired or directed several departments, schools and centers at OHIO and other universities, and has held distinguished fellowships at the University of Chicago and Columbia University. He has written or edited seven books and dozens of articles on literature, film, technology and culture. In 1988 he produced Out of Solidarity, a documentary on Polish refugees in the United States. He has consulted and lectured in Russia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Thailand, South Korea, Fiji and Qatar, and has held the most senior of all Fulbright appointments, the Bicentennial Professorship at the University of Helsinki.

The documentary was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and Ohio Humanities, and is being distributed by Ohio University Press.