The Governor’s School West, now in session at Salem College in Winston-Salem, decided last week not to show the sexually explicit and graphically violent film “American History X,” which may have been in response to the threat of legal action from the Alliance Defense Fund.

The 1998 movie was scheduled to be shown at 6 p.m Thursday as the first installment of the school’s “Race and Film Series.” According to the Internet Movie Database, the film is “Rated R for graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive language, strong sexuality and nudity.” A CNN reviewer called it “one of the most nauseatingly violent films I’ve ever seen.”

Governor’s School is attended by some of the state’s most intellectually gifted 15- to 17-year-olds.

After he discovered the planned showing, ADF attorney J. Michael Johnson faxed a letter Thursday afternoon to Special Deputy Attorney General Thomas Ziko, who handles legal matters for the Governor’s School. Johnson warned “if the film is shown as planned, we intend to take appropriate legal action in response.” Johnson’s legal assistant Kathy Sanders told Carolina Journal Friday that Ziko left a message Thursday evening saying the film would not be shown.

ADF has squabbled in recent months with Ziko and with officials from the Department of Public Instruction over seminars held at the Governor’s School. ADF was drawn into the issue by James and Beverly Burrows, who complained about a seminar held in 2005 entitled “The New Gay Teenager,” which their son attended. DPI oversees the taxpayer-funded program, which also conducts a six-week summer session simultaneously at Meredith College in Raleigh, through its Exceptional Children Division.

DPI spokeswoman Vanessa Jeter explained that “American History X,” a story about neo-Nazi skinheads, was replaced by a 2002 Australian film “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” which is rated PG.

“When a broader cross-section of faculty reviewed the selection,” Jeter said Friday, “they made a different choice.”

Jeter said she wasn’t told that the change was made in response to ADF’s threats of legal action. Mrs. Burrows said her son told her that “American History X” was shown at Governor’s School West last year, but Jeter said she wasn’t aware of that and couldn’t comment any further on the reasons for the change.

A woman who answered the phone at Governor’s School Friday afternoon confirmed that “American History X” was not shown the previous day. Asked if someone could answer questions about the change, she replied, “No sir, thank you very much,” and hung up.

Probably due to the lateness of the decision, the switch to “Rabbit-Proof Fence” was not posted on the Governor’s School Web site to advise parents last week. That film is rated PG for “emotional thematic material.”

Paul Chesser ([email protected]) is associate editor of Carolina Journal.