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Open letter questions Walker Art Center's '12 Years a Slave' programming

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The Walker Art Center's programming practices are being called into question over limited access to upcoming events for the film "12 Years a Slave," the Star Tribune reports.

A group of five people including activists and artists wrote an open letter to the Walker on the blog Opineseason.com. The writers claim black people were not given equal access to two different events: Wednesday's regional premiere of "12 Years a Slave," and a Nov. 9 Walker Dialogue with the film's director, Steve McQueen.

The film chronicles the true story of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man in the pre-Civil War era United States who was abducted from upstate New York and sold into slavery in the deep South.

"We are concerned that though this film is being shown, that peoples of African descent, whose ancestors’ lives and histories were disrupted by the slaveocracy, will be largely underrepresented in the audience," the letter states. "Our position is that equity is not just about the diversity in the art being shown but the material work of creating greater access to exhibitions to ensure that audiences are representative of the subject matter."

The letter asks the Walker to "open up more ticket space for both the screening and the discussion with Steve McQueen. This ticket space would be freely given to reputable organizations of our choice that work with underrepresented youth."

In response to the letter, the Walker said in a statement issued to the Star Tribune that the museum "appreciates and respects the voices of concern expressed by members of our community regarding questions of access to and representation of diverse audiences. We agree that this is a worthy and important topic for broader discussion within our arts community and we welcome this dialogue."

As for another screening, the Walker said the museum has an agreement with the film distributor that prohibits additional showings of "12 Years a Slave" since it opens in theaters Friday.

Co-produced by Minnesota filmmaker Bill Pohlad, "12 Years a Slave" took the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival last month.

The open letter on Opineseason.com called it "one of the most highly recognized, fully Black cinematic collaborations in the history of film."

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