Representing Durham's diversity

Aug. 15, 2014 @ 02:09 PM

Two events taking place this weekend are worth noting because they are so representative of Durham’s diversity.
The 2014 North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival began Friday. The festival, started in 1995, has grown into the second largest gay, lesbian and transgender film festival in the Southeast.
The second event is today’s Durhm Hip Hop Summit (yes, that’s Durhm, not Durham). The festival, still in relative infancy, was started three years ago by two friends who are hip-hop artists.
Both events should be big draws regionally.
Both also serve as reminders of the different art forms, people, culture and beliefs that Durham is not just home to, but celebrates. It hasn’t always been that way.
The Gay and Lesbian Film Festival at the Carolina Theatre generated a lot of controversy at its birth.
In an interview with The Audience Awards website earlier this week, Jim Carl, senior director of The Carolina Theatre, remembered the tumult of that time: “You have to remember that in the mid-90s, especially in politics, this area was known as Jesse Helms’ country. The idea of a city like Durham producing a gay and lesbian film series was just non-existent. There was a huge controversy in the community, not only because of the content of the films, but also because this festival was the very first public face that the theater had put on and people were looking at the Carolina Theatre saying, ‘We just spent all this money and look what they’re doing — showing all of these queer films.’ People were furious and thought of it as a betrayal of their trust. … It got so bad that the City Council members had to be brought in, and the films had to be screened in advance to prove to them that they were not pornographic.”
Times have changed, indeed. Nowadays, if City Council members attend, it’s with tickets in hand to see a profile of “Star Trek” star George Takei or choreographer Elizbeth Streb.
At four different sites a few blocks from the Carolina Theatre, the Durm Hip Hop Summit will be underway today. There’s a lot of interest, and a lot of ignorance, surrounding hip-hop. With N.C. Central University’s addition of the Hip-Hop Institute, and the exposure the summit will give local musical artists, more people will become familiar with the musical genre, its history and its import.
It will be a busy weekend downtown with the visitors that both events will bring. Our city’s openness has become a big part of its attraction, and events like those being held this weekend reinforce our reputation for the arts, culture and diversity.