The Birth of a Nation

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Film poster

The Birth of a Nation is a 1915 silent film directed by D. W. Griffith, based on Thomas Dixon's novel The Clansman, taking place during the American Civil War and the Reconstruction era.

The fictional film depicted the reconstruction policies, Blacks, and miscegenation negatively and the Ku Klux Klan positively as restoring White supremacy and preventing mistreatment of Whites in the postwar South. Scenes included a lynching after the death of a White woman and the Ku Klux Klan intimidating Blacks not to vote, after earlier election fraud and many Whites having been denied the vote. One of the texts between scenes stated "The former enemies of North and South are united again in defense of their Aryan birthright." The widely seen film contributed to a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.

Historian Steven Mintz summarises the film's message as follows: Reconstruction was a disaster, Blacks could never be integrated into White society as equals, and the violent actions of the Ku Klux Klan were justified to reestablish honest government.[1]

The film was also influential for its technical and narrative innovations.

Exactly how much the film earned is disputed. A 2015 article estimated that the film had earned the equivalent of $1.8 billion adjusted for inflation, a milestone that at the time had only been surpassed by Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009) in nominal earnings.[2]

In at least a dozen cities, there were rioting against the film. In Philadelphia, 3,000 rioters fought the police, overturned cars, and smashed the store-windows of Whites. In Boston, 5,000 stormed the state capitol, demanding that the film should be banned. Various forms of censorship of the more inflammatory parts occurred.[3]

The NAACP spearheaded an unsuccessful campaign to totally ban the film, but contributed to it being banned in three states and several cities.

Griffith's next film, the 1916 Intolerance, has sometimes been seen as an apology for The Birth of a Nation, while others have seen it as a defense of free speech and an indirect attack on those who wanted to ban The Birth of a Nation.

The title, The Birth of a Nation, is stated to reflect Griffith's belief that before the war, the United States was a loose coalition of states. He thought that the Northern victory over the breakaway Southern states finally bound the states under one central government authority.[4] According to this interpretation, the word "Nation" in the title was used as a synonym for country, rather than referring to racially based nationalism.

See also

External links

References

  1. UG.edu Archived December 12, 2005, at the Wayback Machine., Digital History. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/slaveryfilm.cfm
  2. Corliss, Richard (March 3, 2015). "D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation 100 Years Later: Still Great, Still Shameful". Time. Retrieved March 4, 2018. http://time.com/3729807/d-w-griffiths-the-birth-of-a-nation-10/
  3. D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation: The often banned and always bowdlerized Majority film classic, Instauration December 1977
  4. Russell Merritt, "Dixon, Griffith, and the Southern Legend." Cinema Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1. (Autumn, 1972).