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Oscar-Nominated Filmmaker on the Fight for Literary Freedom

In recent years, more than 5,000 books — in particular, books like "Beloved," "Maus," and "Gender Queer" that focus on marginalized communities — have been removed from school districts around the US, and made unavailable to millions of students. Concerned about the impact this has on children, acclaimed producer Sheila Nevins who at the age of 84 is making her directorial debut – responded with “The ABCs of Book Banning,” which has been nominated this year for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Film. The film centers the voices of young readers, revealing their poignant insights on the dangers of book banning and their feelings about the outsized impact it will have on their access to reading material of all kinds. 

On Friday, February 23 The Center for Peace, Equity, and Justice (CPEJ) welcomed Nevins to the Upper School for a screening of “The ABC’s of Book Banning,” followed by a conversation moderated by Ruby ‘27 and Sam ‘26. During the screening, the audience was introduced to 101-year-old Grace Linn as she squared off against the Martin County School Board for banning 84 books, including The Storyteller, a novel about the Holocaust that chronicles the growth of anti-Semitism and fascism in Nazi Germany. According to officials, this book ban was the district’s effort to comply with a Florida Department of Education directive as part of the implementation of the 2022 House Bill 1467. Linn is a symbol that “it’s never too late to do anything,” Nevins divulged. “She never says ‘I can’t.’”

Many of the books that have been restricted or banned that are highlighted in the documentary are books that have homes in the CPEJ and Friends Seminary Libraries, including Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb,” Art Spiegleman’s Maus, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas and children’s picture book And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. 

Nevins ended the assembly by taking questions from the audience on her research and creative process. “Ban nothing, discuss everything,” Nevins explained.

Afterward, students gathered in the CPEJ classroom during lunch to write letters to government officials about book banning laws across the country. 

CPEJ is grateful to parent Liza Barnett Fefferman (a producer on the documentary) for bringing Sheila and her film to Friends. 

A true force in the world of filmmaking, Sheila currently serves as Executive Producer for MTV Documentary Films. Prior to joining MTV, she was the President of HBO Documentary Films and Family Programming credited with having created the documentary genre. The New York Times has called Sheila “the grande dame of documentary” and she’s won a staggering 32 Emmys – the most of ANY individual as well as 26 Academy Awards. Sheila has also received the Women in Film’s Lucy Award for her outstanding achievements in advancing documentary filmmaking and the National Board of Review Humanitarian Award for her contribution to the advancement of social reforms and the promotion of human welfare through film.
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Friends Seminary — the oldest continuously operated, coeducational school in NYC — serves college-bound day students in Kindergarten-Grade 12.