Last Updated: December 21, 2017, 3:52 pm

DSU screens inspiring documentary about ‘An Ordinary Hero’ for Black History Month


Joan Mulholland sat at a lunch counter in a Mississippi diner covered in food and barraged with death threats from the crowd just inches behind; pictures like this provide the backdrop for Black History Month.

In conjunction with Black History Month, the Dixie State University History and Political Science Department will continue its movie festival with “An Ordinary Hero: The True Story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland” Monday. Attendees can expect to contribute to a discussion afterward and to hear the words of Loki Mulholland, Joan Mulholland’s son and the documentary’s director.

Joel Lewis, history and political science chair, said the little-known story of Joan Mulholland allows people to view the civil rights movement’s impact from multiple points. As a white, young woman helping drive the movement, Joan Mulholland met with leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers — though she kept a low profile.

“What’s neat about this woman is she was involved with almost every single major leader of the civil rights movement,” he said. “But she’s an unsung hero; she never told the stories to her kids.”

Lewis said Loki Mulholland only found out about his mother’s involvement when looking at the iconic photo of an angry crowd harassing African-American and white activists for sitting at a whites-only counter. Loki Mulholland likened one of the photo’s subjects to Joan Mulholland; she casually said it was her.

“The son discovered his mom’s history as he saw this famous picture [and said], ‘That woman looks a lot like you,’” Lewis said. “She said, ‘It is me.’” 

Determined to document his mother and her role in the movement, Loki Mulholland directed “An Ordinary Hero: The True Story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland.” The documentary screened at DOCUTAH last fall. St. George resident Ra Puriri viewed the film at DOCUTAH and said the documentary instilled emotion in viewers. 

“People loved it; how can you not?” he said. “People were crying. People were clapping; it’s a very emotional story.”    

Lewis said the documentary’s success at DOCUTAH inspired Puriri to suggest another screening during Black History Month. Lewis said he hopes attendees not only enjoy the showings, but also discuss issues intertwined with diversity and race relations.

And because the observation is month-long, Lewis said viewers who attended the three documentaries screened before “An Ordinary Hero: The True Story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland” can hopefully create momentum and energize the conversation. 

“My hope with it is that the dialogue that starts in the space will continue on outside of that space,” he said.

The history and political science department is the only organization on campus planning official events for Black History Month, Lewis said. So by watching the documentary and participating in discussions after, attendees can utilize an observation that Lewis said is important. Above all, Black History Month allows minority groups a platform to tell their stories, he said.

“I think what’s good and important for not just the black community but [all] ethnic minorities on campus is to have their own experience validated,” Lewis said. “When we deal with history, we look at it from the perspective generally of the white male, and that’s the way … history has generally been. And it’s important to address these things to give [different groups] empowerment.”

“An Ordinary Hero: The True Story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland” will be screened Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Dunford Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public. Students can also expect a full slate of events with discussions much like those taking place at the movie festival during the Multicultural Diversity Center-sponsored Multicultural and Diversity Week held March 24-28.