Before Shaft

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Northwestern's Block Museum of Art launches its two-month tribute to pioneering photographer, filmmaker, and onetime Chicagoan Gordon Parks Thursday with a screening of Parks's The Learning Tree.  The 1969 film, the first modern studio film by a black director, tells the semi-autobiographical tale of a black teenager coming of age in 1920's Kansas. Parks followed up The Learning Tree with Shaft (1971), which screens May 8 at the Block Museum, and Shaft's Big Score (1972).  The Learning Tree screens Thursday at 8 PM at the Block Museum, 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston.

Before his cinematic milestones, Parks was the first black photographer for a mass circulation magazine when he started at Life in 1948.  He went on to capture images of Black Power in portraits of Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Black Panthers Eldridge and Katherine Cleaver.  The Block Museum hosts "Bare Witness," an exhibit of 73 Parks photos, opening Friday and running through June 28.  The exhibit will also include a talk by Parks's son David on May 8, and a panel discussion, "Gordon Parks: A Renaissance Man," on May 16.

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