Filmsite Movie Review: The Birth of a Nation


D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) premiered in 1915. The film was based on former North Carolina Baptist minister Rev. Thomas Dixon Jr.'s anti-black, 1905 play, The Clansman. The film is explicitly racist.

Film scholars agree that it is the single most important film of all time in American movie history due to its many cinematic innovations, technical effects, and artistic advancements, including a color sequence at the end.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) criticized the film at its release. They objected to its racist portrayal of blacks, pro-Klan stance, and endorsement of slavery. Riots broke out in major cities and some cities refused to screen it.

The public controversy increased the film's box-office success and it became a major hit. Griffith later (1921) released an edited version without references to the KKK.

The film presents the KKK as heroes and Southern blacks as villains. The film also thematically examined two great American issues: interracial marriage and the empowerment of blacks. The major black roles in the film were stereotypically played and filled by white actors in blackface.

The film ends with the KKK’s suppression of the black threat to white society by the glorious Ku Klux Klan. This message helped calm some of the audience’s fears about the rise of defiant black men and changes in the law that allowed intermarriage.

Source: Filmsite Movie Review: The Birth of a Nation
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