So Birth of a Nation. One of the most controversial films of its time. Why controversial, you ask? Well, black people are not exactly portrayed as equals. In fact, they are depicted as dumb, evil rapists. This film by the godfather of cinema, D.W. Griffith, takes place during the Civil War era where it gives audiences a sort of alternate reality where Lincoln’s abolishment of slavery results in negative consequences for the white nation instead of for the better of the country. The message the film sends out to audiences is that black men should not marry white women, black men in office would just eat fried chicken all day with their feet up, wreak havoc every direction they turn, and if a black man went anywhere near a white woman, they would jump off a cliff. No, I mean really jump off a cliff. Just look: What’s your reaction to this scene?
The KKK are seen as the nation’s heroes riding on their stallions like knights in shining armor (well in this case cloth) whereas black people are the villains of this story that in no way would fit in this white-dominated society.
To make the insulting depiction of black people worse, many of the black men in the film are actually white men that blackface themselves considering at the time, a black man was not allowed to share the screen with a white woman. Write in the comments if you knew about that and what you think.
So with a film this offensive, why on earth would anyone put this on a list of must-see films for? Well, despite its controversial message, this film marks a landmark in being the longest running film of its time running at 3 hours and 15 minutes. This film uses hundreds of extras for its battle scenes, the use of colored tints to better show the mood of the scene, its own musical score given to the orchestra, fade-out transitions, the building up towards the climax, and much more.
This film was not without its outrage towards its racist themes. The NAACP took care of that and had the film banned in major cities. Ironically enough though, when something is considered shocking and a big deal, that only makes audiences want to spend that $2 to see the film more and more– generating a huge box office revenue. D.W. Griffith would say to anyone who would listen that he’s not a racist. I believe him though because the title card at the beginning of the film does explain that this film does not wish to offend anyone- which ironically it did to a major audience and worked out well in Griffith’s favor. Plus, this film really is the point of view of white people during the Civil War era which was a very racist time. Makes me happy and everyone else who watches the film that they did not grow up during this time.
So no, watching this film and liking it does not make you a racist. Trust me, the first time I ever saw this film, I despised it and wanted to give it the lowest score as possible. But the truth is that it’s important to watch this film because it’s a part of history and this film shows off D.W. Griffith’s epic storytelling devices– using methods that many filmmakers haven’t tried before. Plus, you can see for yourself what made people so offended during this film’s release in 1915.
Watch one of the most controversial films of all time and write your reactions in the comments: