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Town Destroyer

The Hillside Club presents a screening of Town Destroyer the story of the Washington High School mural controversy.

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 leftwing 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.

The film addresses current debates over trauma, student safety, and cancel culture: Do images trigger trauma in students? How should a changing society deal with controversial works of art? Do the intentions of the artist matter? Or just the impact on viewers? Is it censorship to destroy murals that show painful histories? What does our country owe people who have been historically wronged?

Other films by Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow are Secrets of Silicon Valley, Thirst, Between Two Worlds, Drones in My Backyard, and Company Town.

After the screening there will be a Q&A with the filmmakers .


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