Past Talks & More | Public Programs

Director's Dialogue: Culture, Ethics, and Controversy: Exploring Issues in Connection with Nate Parker's ‘The Birth of a Nation’

Featuring Joni Boyd Acuff, Leslie Alexander, Wendy Smooth, and Jennifer Beard

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Director's Dialogue featuring Joni Boyd Acuff, Leslie Alexander, Wendy Smooth, and Jennifer Beard

Advancing the role of the arts in sparking meaningful discussion about contemporary issues, today's Director’s Dialogue explores the intense and contentious debate surrounding the upcoming release of The Birth of a Nation, a cinematic account of Nat Turner’s 1831 rebellion directed, written by, and starring Nate Parker. The sold-out member preview screening of the film at the Wex is September 20; the film releases nationally October 7.

The Wexner Center has invited esteemed colleagues from across Ohio State to address the multiple issues raised by extensive media coverage about The Birth of a Nation—including (but not limited to) the sexual assault charges filed in 1999 against Parker and his former college roommate (Jean McGianni Celestin, who shares a story credit on the film). This dialogue will also explore today’s culturally charged climate surrounding gender, race, and sexual consent, as well as the impact an artist’s personal life can have on the reception of his or her work.

Panelists are Ohio State’s Wendy G. Smooth, associate professor in the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies; Joni Boyd Acuff, assistant professor in the Department of Arts Administration, Education, and Policy; and Leslie Alexander, associate professor in the Department of African American and African Studies. Jennifer Beard, director of The Women’s Place, will serve as moderator. A Q&A session will follow the discussion.

Wexner Center’s Director’s Dialogues are made possible in part by a lead endowment gift from an anonymous donor.




Joni Boyd Acuff

An Assistant Professor in the Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy at Ohio State, Acuff’s scholarship attends to critical multicultural art education, critical race theory in art education, community-based art education, and culturally responsive teaching, pedagogy, and curriculum development. Acuff has over 13 years of art teaching experience in both traditional and nontraditional classrooms. She has worked extensively with diverse populations of learners, including students with special needs (cognitive and physical), student who identify as LGBTQ, and students from varying racial backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. Acuff has published in the journals Art Education, Studies in Art Education, and Visual Culture & Gender and is the coeditor of the anthology Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today (Rowman & Littlefield).


Leslie Alexander

An Associate Professor in the Department of African American and African Studies specializing in early African American and African Diaspora history, Alexander’s primary research focus includes late-18th and early-19th-century Black culture, political consciousness, and resistance movements. Dr. Alexander's award-winning first monograph, African or American?: Black Identity and Political Activism in New York City, 1784–1861, explores Black culture, identity, and political activism during the early national and antebellum eras. During her time at Ohio State, Dr. Alexander has won several university awards, including the University Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching, the University Distinguished Diversity Enhancement Award, and the College of Humanities Diversity Enhancement Award; she was also selected as one of the “Seven Stars” in the College of Humanities.


Wendy G. Smooth

An associate professor in Ohio State’s Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Smooth’s research and teaching focuses on women’s experiences in political institutions and the impact of public policies on women’s lives. Her current book-in-progress, Perceptions of Power and Influence: The Impact of Race and Gender in American State Legislatures, examines the impact of race and gender on the distribution of power and influence in the US government. Her research for the project was recognized with the Best Dissertation in Women and Politics by the Women and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association. Smooth’s courses address various public policies affecting women and girls, topics informed by her work for the Center for Women Policy Studies in Washington, DC.


Moderator: Jennifer Beard

Jennifer Beard has worked with Ohio State since 2008 and is the director of the Women’s Place, the office responsible for catalyzing institutional change to create an environment where women are able to thrive, advance, and make their full contributions. Responsible for the development and implementation of initiatives, Beard expands opportunities for women faculty, staff and nontraditional women students at Ohio State. In pursuit of the goal of transforming the culture and removing institutional barriers for women at Ohio State, Beard collaborates with university leaders, academic departments and support units throughout the institution to provide guidance on and a critical gender analysis of policies and practices that impact the progress of women.  Beard is a licensed social worker, and has 20 years of experience serving women. Both her professional career and community activism involve supporting women and marginalized groups to reach their full potential.


Director’s Dialogue on Art and Social Change Endowment Fund



Huntington Bank

Cardinal Health Foundation



Greater Columbus Arts Council

Ohio Arts Council

The Columbus Foundation

Nationwide Foundation


Past Talks & More

Director's Dialogue: Culture, Ethics, and Controversy: Exploring Issues in Connection with Nate Parker's ‘The Birth of a Nation’