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Davis, California

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Bringing King to Davis

August 28, 1963 was a hot, humid summer day but the thousands of people gathered at Washington, D.C. couldn’t have cared less. One man stood before the crowd, prepared to make a speech that he hoped would encourage people to work together toward a greater good. He spoke of a dream in which segregation wouldn’t exist anymore, in which his children and every child would be able to play together with no regard to their skin color. Martin Luther King Jr.’s simple words have echoed throughout the following decades, influencing not only people here in America but even in far flung countries such as the People’s Republic of China.

Caitrin McKiernan is one of many who have been inspired by King’s words, action and spirit. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in Chinese History, she became a Fulbright Scholar and taught in Beijing. Whilst in China, she worked on bringing a play about King written by Clay Carson to the Chinese public. Her actions and experience are documented in the film Bringing King to China, which will be shown at the Chem 194 building at 7 p.m. on Jan.17. It will be held in conjunction with the Black Law Student Association’s culture week. King’s director, Kevin McKiernan, will also be present at the showing of the documentary.

The showing of the film was the pipe dream of Brandon Shelton, a UC Davis Law Student and a former post-production intern of the film. Shelton loved King and the messages that it contained. He worked with the Black Law Students Association to fund the showing. Chancellor Katehi and Dean Johnson of the Law School also contributed a grant to bring Kevin McKiernan to the showing.

“I hope this film will help broaden students’ knowledge about Dr. King’s stances on anti-violence,” Shelton said. “His I Have a Dream speech was an incredible contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. He spent time in India trying to help end oppression. He also was a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War, and vastly criticized the U.S. Government for allocating its financial resources to foreign wars rather than domestic poverty.”

King is essentially the story of Caitrin, who is Kevin McKiernan’s daughter, and her struggles to connect the United States with China. A big reason behind her wanting to produce a play about King is because she wanted to show the Chinese public a more “positive” side of America as well as the fact that not every single American supported the Iraq War.

“I wanted to show them another side of America, a pacifist America,” Caitrin said. “I found that by talking about Dr. King’s ideas, we talked about how we wanted the world to be. Dr. King was a springboard for dialogue. It started small, with dialogues in schools. It expanded to larger exchanges and eventually the premiere with the National Theatre of China.”

Caitrin faced a lot of obstacles, mainly because she is a white woman who can speak Chinese fluently. She is very much of an enigma — she may know and understand the country’s main language, Mandarin, but she had a hard time relating to Chinese culture.

However, director Kevin McKiernan notes that Caitrin’s struggles to bring King’s teachings to the Chinese resulted in Caitrin’s gaining a larger sense of herself and the world around her.

“The heart of this story, however, is the protagonist’s self-doubt: her struggle to deal with the threat of losing her father, her decision to abandon journalism and her questioning of whether Dr. King’s 1960’s vision of global peace still has relevance in a post-9/11 world,” McKiernan said.

MICHELLE RUAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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