Alum Gordon Quinn’s Film on School Boycott Earns Oscar Buzz

Gordon Quinn’s ’63 Boycott depicts historic city-wide walkout against school segregation.

When nearly a quarter-million students walked out of Chicago Public Schools on Oct. 22, 1963 to protest segregation, University of Chicago student Gordon Quinn knew he had a chance to document history.

A half-century later, the original 16mm footage Quinn captured as 21-year-old has new life, providing the foundation of his documentary ’63 Boycott.

The 30-minute film weaves the black-and-white scenes with archival materials, new interviews and shots of modern-day protests—connecting those historic Freedom Day demonstrations to contemporary issues of race, education and youth activism.

Recently shortlisted for an Academy Award’63 Boycott also represents the latest example of Quinn’s filmmaking philosophy, an activist bent honed by his transformative undergraduate experience at UChicago. The heady mix of literature and philosophy in the classroom inspired an artistic commitment to impacting the world outside it.

“You have to make people feel something if they’re going to see the world from a different perspective,” said Quinn, AB’65, whose non-profit Kartemquin Films produced the award-winning Hoop Dreams and The Trials of Muhammad Ali. “If they’re going to empathize with somebody, you have to stir them in that emotional way. I saw that documentaries had the capacity to do that.”