Filmmaker Dawn Porter to speak at MLK commemoration

Author: 
Dan Aloi
Criminal justice reformer, attorney and filmmaker Dawn Porter

Criminal justice reformer, attorney and filmmaker Dawn Porter is the featured speaker for Cornell’s 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration, Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 6 p.m. at the State Theatre. Free and open to the public, the event is sponsored by Cornell United Religious Work (CURW) in collaboration with campus and community partners.

Porter is directing a documentary based on the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” The book and the social issues it addresses are the focus of Ithaca’s Community Book Read through April. Its author, Michelle Alexander, was originally scheduled as this year’s MLK speaker but had to cancel her early 2017 speaking engagements for health reasons.

A free screening of Porter’s award-winning HBO documentary “Gideon’s Army,” which follows three public defenders in the Deep South, is Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. at Cinemapolis in downtown Ithaca. The film has been used to engage local communities on issues of indigent defense, the American justice system and socio-economic influences on crime.

“Dawn shares Michelle’s commitment to changing the circumstances that led to the incarceration of over 2 million individuals in the United States, more than any other industrialized nation, a significant number of which are black and Latino,” said Rev. Kenneth I. Clarke Sr., director of CURW.

Porter’s films include “Trapped” (2016), about the battle for women’s reproductive health rights; and “Spies of Mississippi” (2014), both of which aired on PBS’s “Independent Lens.” “Rise: The Promise of My Brother’s Keeper” was shown on The Discovery Channel in 2015. Porter interviewed President Barack Obama for the film, which chronicles his program to help young men and boys of color succeed. “Gideon’s Army” (2013) received the Tribeca All Access Creative Promise Award, which supports filmmakers from traditionally underrepresented communities; the Sundance Film Festival Editing Award; and Independent Spirit Award and Emmy nominations.

A graduate of Swarthmore College and Georgetown Law Center, Porter practiced law for five years and was a standards and practices executive at ABC News and A&E Television Networks prior to her career as a filmmaker.

She also will visit the Cornell Law Library and the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in Kroch Library, and view a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in Abraham Lincoln’s handwriting.

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration aspires to make King’s life and legacy accessible for contemporary times. Speakers are scholars, activists, journalists and religious leaders influenced by and continuing King’s work, including those who worked directly with or knew the civil rights leader.