Chicago film series celebrates history of Communist Party USA and radical movements

CHICAGO—In light of the growing interest in socialism, HotHouse, a leading progressive cultural institution in Chicago, is hosting a fall series of films and performances looking at the impact of socialist and radical movements, particularly the Communist Party USA, in recent U.S. history.

On Whose Shoulders We Stand features 22 films and documentaries. The series coincides with the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Communist Party USA and examines the experiences and activity of the CPUSA in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, especially in labor, anti-racist, and anti-fascist struggles and their impact on later movements.

The series also looks at CPUSA rank-and-file leaders and visionary voices for justice in the broader mass struggles. Especially spotlighted are women and people of color who went on to play leadership roles during the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.

The series highlights the party’s contribution to racial and gender equality and its commitment to internationalism and civil rights. The program also looks at how the Communist Party’s mission contributed to the century’s broader political and cultural landscape and progressive political culture.

In 2018, HotHouse curated the multi-disciplinary exhibition The Tricontinental ’66 and Other Acts of Liberation at the Stony Island Arts Bank, the South Side cultural institution founded by Theaster Gates, the innovative artist renowned for reclaiming and repurposing social space, and University of Chicago professor. The exhibition explored internationalism through the lens of culture.

On Whose Shoulders, with some events at the Stony Island Arts Bank, advances some of the same ideas and sheds light on the role of communists eliminated from the history books or distorted by Cold War anti-communism. The series looks at how the suppression of this history has disfigured our democracy and limited robust political discourse, while drawing lessons from global history.

On Whose Shoulders seeks to excavate the voices and political initiatives of the CPUSA from its foundational years—“The Red Century—movements rooted in the U.S. experience. These movements grew out of what the historian Robin D. G. Kelley, the author of Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression, calls “the most despised and dispossessed elements of American society.” Professor Kelley argues that Black workers drawn to the CPUSA were as instrumental in shaping its political program as global influences, including the Soviet Union and international communist movement.

The series takes place in multiple venues across Chicago. Events already held include a video on the Army-McCarthy hearings entitled Point of Order, a documentary on the cultural impact of “The Internationale,” and the film “Native Land,” the anti-fascist treasure narrated by Paul Robeson and produced by the exiled photographer and pioneer documentarian Paul Strand and blacklisted filmmaker Leo Hurwitz.


On Whose Shoulders was organized by an ad hoc committee led by HotHouse director Marguerite Horberg in collaboration with The Rebuild Foundation, Chicago Film Society, Co-Prosperity Sphere, Communist Party USA, filmfront, South Side Projections, Puffin West and CANTV, with special assistance from Peter Kuttner, co-curator, and Judy Hoffman, Eric Torres, and Floyd Webb.

The remaining schedule includes:

Seeing Red (Film by Julia Reichert and Jim Klein)

Monday, Sept. 30, 7 pm

Unity Center, CPUSA, 3339 S. Halsted St.


Rise and Fall of Jim Crow (Written, produced, and directed by Bill Jersey)

Saturday, Oct. 12, 4-6 pm

Red Summer/Winter Blues / Fundraiser

Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave


Red Noir: Walk East on Beacon (Alfred L. Werker)

Wednesday, Oct. 16, 7 pm

Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan St.


Rise and Fall of Jim Crow Part 3: Don’t Shout Too Soon (Written, produced, and directed by Bill Jersey)

Saturday, Oct. 19, 4-6 pm

Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave


Salt of the Earth

Monday, Oct. 21, 7 pm

Unity Center, CPUSA, 3339 S. Halsted St.


The Good Fight: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War

Tuesday, Oct. 22, 7 pm

filmfront, 1740 West 18th Street


Killer of Sheep

Saturday, Nov. 16, 4-6 pm

Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave


Daniel (based on the life of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg)

Wednesday, Nov. 20, 7:30 pm

Northeastern Illinois University, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave


On Whose Shoulders Cable Access Films:


Claudia Jones: A Woman of Our Time

Finally Got the News

American Reds

Angela Davis 1972

Naomi Klein Lecture: The Shock Doctrine

Black Russians, The Price of a Ticket


Saturday, Oct. 5, Oct. 26, and Nov. 9

5 pm – 11:30 pm

Can T.V. Cable Access Channel 21


From Robeson to Oscar Brown, Jr. and Beyond. Capstone Concert

Sunday, Dec. 8, 4 pm

Reva and David Logan Foundation