Cinema 53 is a screening and discussion series presenting conversation-provoking films by and about women and people of color at the historic Harper Theater in downtown Hyde Park. Curated by Arts + Public Life director Jacqueline Stewart, Cinema 53 brings together scholars, artists, students and audiences from the South Side and beyond to consider how visual cultures reflect, and reflect upon, enduring inequalities and revolutionary futures. 

Take a look at past Cinema 53 events.

Winter 2020: Race and American Schools 

In this trio of documentaries, we explore the central role that race has played in the experience of schooling in America. Is education truly “the great equalizer”? Who is left out of that vision? How can education be used as a tool for liberation-- or oppression? Curated by Eve L. Ewing, assistant professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and author of Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side, the winter series brings together a researcher, a community organizer, and a filmmaker to unpack the sordid story of race and education, and imagine the future of American schooling.
Series curator: Dr. Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist of education and a writer from Chicago. She is the author of Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago's South Side. She is also author of Electric Arches, which received awards from the American Library Association and the Poetry Society of America and was named one of the year's best books by NPR and the Chicago Tribune. She is the co-author (with Nate Marshall) of the play No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. She also writes the Ironheart series for Marvel Comics. Ewing is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and many other venues.


The winter 2020 series is presented with generous support from UChicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture and Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. 


All screenings are free and open to the public, and take place at:

Harper Theater
5238 S Harper Ave
Chicago, IL 60615

January 23, 2020 | 7PM
The Graduates/Los Graduados
(Bernardo Ruiz, 2013, 120 minutes)

Post-screening discussion featuring director Bernardo Ruiz

In this award-winning story of what it takes to graduate, six Latinx high schoolers from across the US describe the barriers they face while pursuing their academic goals. Threaded through their stories is the importance of civic engagement, of students becoming involved in their schools and communities, and — crucially — having a say in their own futures.

Bernardo Ruiz is a two-time Emmy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker and a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. His latest, HARVEST SEASON, recently aired on PBS’s documentary series, Independent Lens. His directorial feature debut, REPORTERO (2013), about attacks on the press in Mexico premiered at Full Frame (U.S.), IDFA (Europe) and Ambulante (Mexico). His second feature documentary, KINGDOM OF SHADOWS (2016) premiered at SXSW in the U.S. and IDFA in Europe. In 2015, Ruiz was a filmmaker in residence at the Investigative Reporting Program at the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He also wrote, directed and produced Roberto Clemente (2008) which was awarded the NCLR “Alma” Award for “Outstanding Made for Television Documentary." 



February 13, 2020 | 7PM
The Homestretch
(Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly, 2014, 90 min)

Post-screening discussion with Eve Ewing and Gina Samuels, Associate Professor, School of Social Service Administration, UChicago.

With unprecedented access into the Chicago Public Schools, The Night Ministry’s Crib emergency youth shelter and Teen Living Programs’ Belfort House, The Homestretch follows three smart, ambitious teenagers - Roque, Kasey and Anthony -  as they move through the milestones of high school while navigating a landscape of couch hopping, emergency shelters, transitional homes, street families and a school system on the front lines of this crisis.  The film examines the struggles these youth face in obtaining a high school level education, and then follows them beyond graduation to focus on the crucial transition when the structure of school vanishes and homeless youth struggle to find the support and community they need to survive and be independent. A powerful, original perspective on what it means to be young, homeless and building a future in America today. 

Gina Miranda Samuels is an Associate Professor at the School of Social Service Administration and a Faculty Affiliate of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at UChicago. Her scholarly interests include transracial adoption, mixed race and multiethnic identity formation, interpretive research methods, and the development of relational, kinship, and cultural ties among young adults whose childhoods are shaped by foster care and adoption. Samuels is a Board Affiliate of MAVIN Foundation, a national organization addressing the needs and concerns of multiracial populations and transracial adoptees, and a consulting editor for Child Welfare, Children Youth Services Review, Family Process, Marriage and the Family, Family Relations, and Race and Ethnic Studies. She received her M.S.S.W and Ph.D. in Social Work and Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she received a Council on Social Work Education Minority research fellowship funded through the National Institute of Mental Health. She has practiced social work in the areas of child welfare and child protective services, juvenile probation, Afrocentric school-based tutoring programs, and group therapy with female youth.



March 5, 2020 | 7PM
(Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip,  2018, 86 min)

Post-screening discussion hosted by Eve Ewing in conversation with Heather Miller, executive director of the American Indian Center in Chicago.

“My foster mother told me … she would save me from being Penobscot.” As recently as the 1970’s, one in four Native American children nationwide were living in non-Native foster care, adoptive homes, or boarding schools. Follow the first government-sanctioned truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) in the US as it witnesses intimate, sacred moments of truth-telling and healing. With exclusive access to this groundbreaking process and never-before-seen footage, the film reveals the untold narrative of Indigenous child removal in the United States. DAWNLAND foregrounds the immense challenges that this commission faces as they work toward truth, reconciliation, and the survival of all Indigenous peoples.

Heather Miller is an enrolled member of the Wyandotte Nation from Oklahoma.  Her passion for seeing Native American organizations succeed inspires her in her role as the current Executive Director of the American Indian Center in Chicago.  She began her professional career working for Hopa Mountain in Montana where she helped Native Nonprofit organizations develop their capacity.  She then worked in Seattle with Potlatch Fund, a Native American Foundation where she continued to provide capacity building trainings to Native organizations as well as teach non-Native Foundations how to work appropriately with Indian Country.  She has worked to develop programs, lead organizations and direct grants of various sizes.  Heather currently serves as a Board Member and Program Committee Chair for the Chicago Cultural Alliance.  She holds a Bachelors of Philosophy from Miami University in Ohio and a Masters of Native American Studies from Montana State University.  Heather is also a graduate of the Leadership, Apprentice, Economic and Development program through First Nations Development Fund and a graduate of the Cascade Executive Program through the University of Washington.  She is also a 2019 Leaders For A New Chicago Awardee.




Fall 2019: Freedom, Autonomy, Access: 25 Years of Reproductive Justice

In 1994, twelve Black women gathered in Chicago and founded the reproductive justice movement. Naming themselves Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice, they organized around three fundamental principles:  the right to have children, to not have children, and to create and care for families in safe and healthy environments. Now, 25 years later, Cinema 53 partners with  the Chicago Abortion Fund to commemorate the creation of that powerful framework and consider the complex experiences that inform these basic rights today. This three-part series of films and conversation brings together organizers, scholars, artists, and health workers to view ground-breaking features and explore the critical inheritance and vital future of global “RJ.”

All screenings are free and open to the public, and take place at:

Harper Theater
5238 S Harper Ave
Chicago, IL 60615

October 10  7pm
Just Another Girl on the IRT 
(Leslie Harris, 1992)

Film Screening + Discussion featuring: Leslie Harris, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and Jacqueline Stewart

With this brash, ‘90s indie film about Chantel, her confident teen wisdom and complicated real-life decisions, Leslie Harris became the first African American woman director to win Best Feature Film at Sundance. Insightful and fresh after 27 years, Just Another Girl’s honest take on shopping, high school and unexpected pregnancy still resonates. Followed by conversation with Harris and a youth leader from Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, moderated by Jacqueline Stewart.

November 7  6pm
(Jonathan Demme, 1998)

Film Screening + Discussion featuring: Charlene Carruthers, Kaneesha Parsard and Quenna Lené Barrett

Majestic, confounding and rich with secrets, Beloved, based on Toni Morrison‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 novel, is the enduring story of Sethe, a mother determined to “never run from another thing on earth.” Followed by conversation with Charlene Carruthers, author of Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements, and Kaneesha Parsard, UChicago English Language and Literature, moderated by Quenna Lené Barrett.

December 12  7pm
Little Woods 
(Nia DaCosta, 2018)

Film Screening + Discussion featuring: Brittany Mostiller and Quenna Lené Barrett

“Your choices are only as good as your options.” Facing an $8000 bill for prenatal care or an abortion hundreds of miles away, Deb (Lily James) teams up with her sister Ollie (Tessa Thompson) on a border-crossing, drug-running, last-chance scheme to survive in the midst of the opioid crisis. Followed by conversation with Brittany Mostiller, former executive director of Chicago Abortion Fund, moderated by Quenna Lené Barrett.