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And that's exactly why The Birth of a Nation is worth studying.
Even as Griffith completed The Birth of a Nation in Hollywood, black leaders began laying plans for a nationwide protest campaign. In the week prior to President Wilson’s screening of the film in the White House, the Los Angeles branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), after a series of unsuccessful attempts to have local authorities censor the film, called for The Birth of a Nation to be banned in Los Angeles. Founded only six years earlier by a coalition of black and white political leaders and intellectuals, the NAACP was the nation’s most important and powerful organization devoted to protecting African-American rights and interests and achieving black equality and economic opportunity.
In March, the NAACP’s protests shifted to New York City, where the film’s producers planned a huge opening on March 3, 1915, at the Liberty Theater near Times Square. Using advance ticket sales, reserved seating, huge Times Square billboards of Klan nightriders, special trains to transport white movie patrons from Connecticut and New Jersey, and horsemen dressed in Klan regalia riding through city streets, the producers managed to attract thousands of New Yorkers in the first few weeks after the film opened. Despite daily picket lines outside the Liberty Theater, The Birth of a Nation quickly became the most successful film ever shown in New York City during the silent film era.
Birth of a Nation tells the story of two families.
It gave the new government three main branches: the executive (Presidential and Cabinet), the legislature (Senate and House of Representatives), and the judicial (Supreme Court).
Because widespread black protests had greeted the staging of Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman nine years earlier, both Griffith and Dixon decided to drum up support among prominent Americans for The Birth of a Nation in anticipation of the storm of criticism that would surely follow the film’s release. Dixon managed even to wangle an interview with President Woodrow Wilson; he screened The Birth of a Nation for the president on February 18, 1915 (the first film, in fact, ever to be screened in the White House). The film’s power and message reportedly overwhelmed Wilson, no doubt in part because his own scholarly writings figured so centrally in the film’s historical interpretation.
Still image from "Birth of a Nation" Film
When the proposed boycott of The Birth of a Nation failed to stir significant white opposition to the film in Los Angeles and New York City, the NAACP changed its tactics, arguing instead that the film’s most egregiously racist scenes must be excised from release prints. An April 17, 1915, letter from NAACP national secretary Mary Childs Nerney describes the NAACP’s efforts, largely in vain, to get local film censors to remove particularly racist scenes from The Birth of a Nation. The NAACP’s ongoing national campaign to censor the film had decidedly mixed results. Despite successes in Boston and Chicago in getting sympathetic officials placed on newly formed film censorship boards, by year’s end distributors could show The Birth of a Nation almost anywhere in the country (the exceptions included Kansas), though with several minor cuts in the film’s release print.
At the end of “The Birth of a Nation,” as Turner is hanged and the crowd howls its approval, the camera draws close to the face, and then the quivering, liquid eyes, of a black boy who heard one of Turner’s sermons, and later betrayed him. When the camera pans out again, the boy is a Union soldier, leading a charge for freedom. The implication of a baton having been passed is ahistorical, and very silly. The ultimate quelling of Turner’s rebellion, and our uncertainty as to its ultimate utility—its status, in other words, as a genuine tragedy—is precisely why it so immediately passed into the haunted realm of national myth.
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Griffith’s Birth of a Nation Essay
Later, Nancy is raped and beaten by a band of slave catchers. The camera watches the men pounce, then floats away. Afterward, she lies in bed, her face swollen and ruptured. Turner has his first vision—blood seeping in red bubbles through the silk of an ear of corn. He has a friend named Hark, whose wife, Esther (Gabrielle Union), is raped soon after. Nat then defies Samuel, by baptizing a white man on the grounds of the plantation, and Samuel has Nat beaten within inches of his life. Then Nat plans his revolt. He bids his wife and his mother farewell; both, in their beds, look up at him, eyes full of admiration. “I’m proud of you,” his mother says. Nat gathers his men and hits the road—the superhero off to his great task. Women, in this film, are reduced to mere incitements for the wicked deeds and righteous actions of men. The climactic action of the revolt is not entirely unlike those city-smashing scenes out of something by Marvel: all bravado, very little of the spirit.
Listen to Clare discuss 'Birth of a nation?' and Vida Goldstein on :
During his travels with Samuel, Nat comes upon a slave auction and sees a woman for sale, dirty and battered, clearly traumatized by her past. He becomes obsessed, and persuades his master to buy her. There is an element of compassion in this: Nat knows that Samuel is a relatively lenient master, not disposed to rape, which the auctioneer invites, with increasing explicitness. But Nat has also, quite evidently, been smitten, and decides to use the mechanisms of human ownership to draw the woman near. The scene is gross, and not illuminatingly so. Subsequently, the movie asks us to view the acquisition of the woman—Nancy, played by Aja Naomi King—as a kind of meet-cute, which feels grosser still. Nat and Nancy fall in love and marry.
Griffith's Birth Of A Nation Essay - 940 Words | Cram
Over the next twenty years The Birth of a Nation went on to become one of the most admired and profitable films ever produced by Hollywood, replaced finally after 1940 by Gone with the Wind, another film about the Civil War and Reconstruction era based on a novel by a southerner that told the story of gallant southern cavaliers and their ladies and the “Lost Cause” of the Confederate South.
Movie: The Birth of A Nation Essay Sample - Bla Bla …
A selection from historian Thomas Cripps’s Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1900-1942 offers a scene-by-scene breakdown of The Birth of a Nation as African-American filmgoers might have viewed the film in 1915.
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