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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Documentary on the Cultural Impact of Traditional African American Names to Screen at ODU

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Something as simple as a name can have a cultural impact on individuals.

Eleanor Earl, who received a master's degree in humanities from Old Dominion University in 1994, has produced a film examining the impact that unique Afrocentric, Islamic and so-called "ghetto" names can have on people's lives.

The documentary, "Searching for Shaniqua," recently won the HBO Best Documentary Award at the Martha's Vineyard African American Film Festival. It will receive its Hampton Roads premiere at Old Dominion on Thursday, Nov. 17.

The film will be screened in Room 102 of the Mills Godwin Jr. Life Sciences Building. Earl and the film's director, Phill Branch, will participate in a question-and-answer session after the screening.

Doors open for the event, which is free and open to the public, at 6:30 p.m.

Avi Santo, associate professor of communication and director of ODU's Institute for the Humanities, has collaborated previously with Earl, who is a faculty member at Hampton University. She served as an advisory board member for the "Birth of an Answer" project, which Santo led in 2015.

He said the issues in the film are especially pertinent in today's racially charged climate.

"A film like this helps to recognize how institutional racism works in our country," Santo said. "This documentary gives attention to the subtle ways ingrained prejudice impacts the lives of African Americans, over something as simple as the name they are given."

Some members of the African American community wrestle with the idea that some names are "coded" as black and with the impact that can have, Santo said.

See an extended trailer for the documentary film on the "Searching for Shaniqua" website.

The program, Santo said, also showcases a successful alumna.

"It's so important to be able to show our current students what opportunities can arise from pursuing the humanities. They get a glimpse of what's possible," Santo said.

The event is co-sponsored by the Institute for the Humanities, the College of Arts & Letters, Student Engagement & Enrollment Services, the Office of Intercultural Relations, the Women's Center, the Department of Women's Studies, the Department of Communication & Theatre Arts, the Graduate Program in International Studies, the ODU Alumni Association, the ODU Black Alumni Chapter and the Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity.

In addition to the film screening, Branch will take part in a brown bag workshop from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in BAL 9002 for students interested in learning about how the film was financed, produced and distributed.

For more information about the screening or to sign up for the brown bag workshop, contact the Institute for the Humanities at 757-683-3821 or humanities@odu.edu.

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