Screening of ‘Inherit the Wind’ is timely, timeless

The wife and daughter of director Stanley Kramer will join a discussion panel that includes local Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward J. Larson and Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

The Malibu Film Society will launch its second season by screening the late Stanley Kramer’s 1960 Oscar-nominated “Inherit the Wind” on Oct. 3. The film, based on a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, dramatizes the infamous “Monkey Trial”-the prosecution in 1925 of Tennessee biology teacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in his class.

The Stanley Kramer Library is hosting the event. Kramer’s wife, Karen Sharpe Kramer, and daughter, Kat Kramer, will chair a discussion panel after the screening that includes Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, and Pepperdine University history and law professor Edward J. Larson, whose 1998 book, “Summer for the Gods,” on the Scopes trial won the Pulitzer Prize for history.

Kramer was noted for socially conscious films produced years ahead of their time, including “The Defiant Ones,” which took on racism, “On the Beach,” which warned against nuclear annihilation, and “Judgment at Nuremberg,” which agonizingly laid out the perils of fascism and the atrocities of the Holocaust.

“Stanley was ahead of his time, but also timeless,” Sharpe Kramer said of her husband of 35 years. “He didn’t set out to make films that change the world; he just took up the mantle and his films resonated.”

Kramer’s films did, indeed, perhaps help change much of the world’s perception of such issues at the time. Kramer premiered “On the Beach” on Dec. 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day) on six continents, which were attended by royalty and heads of state. Even though scientists told him at the time that such a nuclear disaster could never happen as depicted, governments were spurred to begin U.N. discussions on nuclear disarmament.

“When ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ came out, interracial marriage was still against the law in several states,” Sharpe Kramer said of her husband’s 1967 film about a white daughter who brings home a black fiance. In the Loving vs. Virginia ruling in 1967, the Supreme Court ended anti-miscegenation laws.

“Inherit the Wind’s” 50th anniversary screening comes at a time when an argument against teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution has risen again in some conservative communities. In 1999, the Kansas State Department of Education tried to withdraw teaching evolution in science classes; then, in 2005, it tried to mandate the teaching of “Intelligent Design,” a theory based on Biblical creationism that has been dismissed by an overwhelming body of scientific researchers.

Similar attempts have been made by school boards in Pennsylvania and Georgia, always being squashed by the courts.

Sharpe Kramer said she was disheartened by the current seeming lack of progress in accepting science-based research, but is not surprised.

“I myself am a Christian,” Sharpe Kramer said, who often calls into Christian radio talk shows to debate their condemnation of her husband’s film. “But the Evangelical movement is challenged by the science. It blows holes in their beliefs. I understand. But this film is about First Amendment rights.”

Scott’s organization monitors and fights efforts that seek to “change established science” and promote creationism, or Intelligent Design, in school curriculums across the nation.

“When you look at the numbers, it’s funny to think state boards of education would even think about including it in curriculum,” Scott said. “In every survey I’ve seen, scientists support the validity of evolution by, at the very least, 96 percent. But then you have people like Don McLeroy in Texas.”

In 2009, during a debate over new public school science standards by the Texas State Board of Education, board chairman McLeroy famously declared, “Somebody’s gotta stand up to the experts!” while defending a measure challenging evolution.

Scott believes that one reason it is so difficult to standardize science curriculum in the U.S. is because education is so decentralized.

“We have 15,000 separate school districts,” Scott said. “European countries are astonished that we have no national standards in education.”

One ironic coincidence about the Malibu Film Society screening is that the film’s character, Matthew Harrison Brady, who argues against evolution, was very loosely based on the great American statesman and three-time Democratic presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan -great-grandfather of local state Sen. Fran Pavley.

Pavley is one of the Legislature’s staunchest advocates for excellence in education, having been a public school teacher herself, including teaching 8th grade American history.

Scott Tallal, executive director of MFS, said, “We’re both delighted and honored to be hosting the screening of such an important movie. Stanley Kramer produced and directed some of the most socially conscious films, and ‘Inherit the Wind’ is still every bit as relevant today as it was when it was first released 50 years ago. It also features incredibly powerful performances and is often cited as one of the most riveting courtroom dramas of all time.”

MFS will screen “Inherit the Wind” at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, 24855 Pacific Coast Hwy, on Sunday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be obtained online at Web site www.malibufilmsociety.org

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