Reactions to The Birth of a Nation

Reactions to The Birth of a Nation

Mohammad A. Mian

The Emergence of Present day America

It can be argued that no additional film in American record provides been as controversial as D.W. Griffith’s silent epic film, The Birth of a Nation. The Birth of a Nation, which earliest premiered on February 8th, 1915, and was predicated on Thomas Dixon’s novel and enjoy The Clansmen.[1] The film is set in the American Civil Battle and the time of Reconstruction during the 19th century, and chronicles the lives of two family members, the Stonemans and the Camerons.[2] The Stonemans will be an abolitionist Unionist family members from the North, whereas the Camerons are a Southern family loyal to the Confederate cause during the American Civil War.[3] Throughout The Birth of a Nation, African People in america are portrayed as being savages, violent thugs, sexual predators, ill mannered brutes, and ballot stuffers. Because of this, despite the film’s positive reception among the American open public and news outlets during its release; The Birth of a Nation received a negative response from African Us citizens and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, both of which protested against the film’s premiere across American places. Despite the criticism, the film was defended by various reports outlets and Griffith himself. Many modern-day film critics and historians respect The Birth of a Nation as America’s first great cinematic feature, despite its controversial portrayal of African People in america.

The center point of The Birth of a Nation are two juxtaposed families, the Stonemans and the Camerons. Associates of the Stoneman home are Austin Stoneman, an American legislator and abolitionist, his sons Phil and Todd, and his girl Elsie.[4] The Cameron family involves Dr. Cameron, a Southern doctor and staunch Confederate after the outbreak of the Civil Battle, his wife Mrs. Cameron, his two daughters, Margaret and Flora, and his three sons, Benjamin, Wade, and Duke.[5] At the start of the film, Phil and Todd going to the Cameron spouse and children estate in South Carolina.[6] Upon immediately seeing Margaret, Phil falls deeply in love with her, whereas Benjamin is usually awestruck by an image of Elsie.[7] A couple of months soon after, the American Civil War erupts, and the Cameron sons enlist in the Confederate Army, while Phil and Todd uphold their loyalty to the Union by joining the army of basic Ulysses S. Grant.[8] During the war, Black militiamen strike and ransack the Cameron estate good college essays, but the women of family members are preserved by a Confederate contingent which routs the militia.[9] The portrayal of African American soldiers as brutes and savages strongly correlates with the stereotypical portrayal of Blacks the filmmakers envisioned. By the conclusion of the battle, Todd, Wade, and Duke are killed in the conflict, while Benjamin is captured and taken to a hospital in Washington D.C.[10] At the hospital, Benjamin satisfies Elsie, with whom he evolves a romantic romance. The deaths of Todd, Wade, and Duke had been emotionally appealed to the film’s audience, a lot of whom likely lost family members in the Civil War. During his stay at the hospital, Benjamin is informed that he’s to become executed by hanging credited his associations with the Confederate guerillas.[11] So that you can search for a pardon for Benjamin, Elsie and Mrs. Stoneman talk with Abraham Lincoln, and both of them manage to convince the President to pardon him.[12] After President Lincoln’s assassination, Austin Stoneman and his fellow republicans impose harsh measures on wealthy White colored Southerners, such as property confiscation, ushering in the Reconstruction period in American history.[13]

Austin Stoneman travels to the South Carolina to oversee the implementation of the reconstruction plans of the Republicans.[14] He’s along with a Mulatto governor, Silas Lynch.[15] Lynch is usually portrayed as having psychotic attributes, a prevalent stereotype of African Us citizens among White Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[16] In the Southern places visited by Stoneman and Lynch, African American soldiers have emerged harassing Whites, while triumphantly parading on the roads.[17] In these particular scenes, African american militias are portrayed as being ill mannered and brutish compared to the naA?A?ve and gentle White Southerners.[18] During the regional elections, Whites will be shown as being barred from voting, whereas African Us citizens cast multiple votes without any issue.[19] Following the elections, the African Us citizens who happen to be elected to South Carolina’s legislature happen to be portrayed as being ill mannered, as the film once more highlights seeks to portray them as being brutish.[20] Laws in favour of African Americans are also enacted, which require is apa double spaced Whites to respect African american soldiers in their cities, and blended marriages are also legalized.[21] Many of these elements, culminate in Benjamin’s founding of the Ku Klux Klan to counter the increasing power of African Us citizens in the South.[22]

After Elsie hears about the activities perpetrated by Benjamin’s organization against African Us citizens in the South, she abruptly ends their relationship.[23] In the mean time, Ben’s sister, Flora commits suicide after staying pursued by Gus, a Black freedman who seeks a romantic romantic relationship with her.[24] Gus’ incontrollable carnal desires are meant to portray him as a sexual predator, a common stereotype associated with African American men during the late 1800s and early on to mid 1900s.[25] After in person witnessing his sister’s demise, Benjamin possesses Gus lynched by his fellow Klan users, and spots his corpse in front of Lynch’s house.[26] Lynch right away challenges orders to suppress the actions of the Klan, and along the way Benjamin’s dad is arrested to be associated with the business.[27] He is, even so, ironically rescued by his faithful Black color servants with Phil Stoneman’s aid.[28] After hearing of the imprisonment of Mr. Cameron, Elsie attempts to convince Lynch to stop his crackdown on the Klan.[29] Lynch refuses and tries to rape Elsie, but she is preserved by Benjamin and other Klan members who also manage to capture Lynch.[30] The capture of Lynch by the Klan is intended to emphasize the heroicness of the Ku Klux Klan as defenders of White colored Americans, and stereotype African Americans as savages. In the next election day, Black color voters are halted from voting by customers of the Ku Klux Klan, and Margaret and Phil, and Elsie and Benjamin will be married.[31] The film concludes with the name “Dare we imagine a golden time when the bestial Battle shall rule forget about? But instead – the mild Prince in the Hall of Brotherly Love in the City of Peace.”[32]

Following its discharge in 1915, The Birth of a Country was praised by American film critics publishing for several news outlets during the following few decades, with no reference to the film’s racial stereotypes of African Us citizens. One notable overview of the film is normally Seymour Stern’s document “BIRTHDAY OF A Old classic: The Twentieth Anniversary of ‘Birth of a Nation’ Recalls Its Significance” in The New York Times, that was published on March 24th, 1935. Despite their being a twenty-year gap between the film’s discharge and Stern’s assessment, he reflected the check out Americans possessed of the film after its initial let go. Stern wrote

It appeared twenty years in the past as an unforeseen and unprecedented phenomenon in the good old fashioned movie universe of the day. With it the cinema started to be one stroke of art work, and its 1st masterpiece was acclaimed by the critics. Concurrently was once and for all sent from the gaudy dominion of the vaude-ville show, which at the time had a stranglehold upon it-and David Wark Griffith entered into the long and magnificent reign as the kin of directors.[33]

Stern even more praised the film’s impressive photography by stating

The picture is so remarkable from such a number of important aspects that it’s not easy immediately to choose any presented one. Griffith introduced a variety of technical innovations which have since become the portion and parcel of filmcraft. Here for the 1st time he used night picture taking, self-focus photography, moving camcorder pictures, lap dissolves, the split display and acute surveillance camera angles. The low-angle photos of mounted clansmen looming over the frightened Negroes happen to be unforgettable. His subtle utilization of the iris in this film marks the fruition of this device.[34]

From both of these statements, it is obvious that Stern had substantial respect for the film. Actually, he previously such high regard for the film that he explained it as you which innovated and changed the entire motion picture industry. Stern’s overview of the film as well showcase the prejudiced White People in america had towards African People in america, as he didn’t once talk about the film’s controversial portrayal of Blacks as a hindrance to the film’s visible magnificence.[35] Furthermore, Stern’s referral to African Americans as Negroes further suggest that he generally agreed with their portrayal in the film, which isn’t surprising since African Americans continued to be stereotyped in American mass media until after the Second World Battle. While Stern had nothing but compliment for the film, the National Association for the Improvement of Colored Persons protested against the film, as performed African American veterans of the Initial World War.

In the entire year of and years following The Birth of a Nation‘s release, many African Americans protested against its discharge in theatres. While the National Association for the Progression of Colored People opposed the film instantly upon its initial let go, they did not take direct court action against it until following the First World Battle. The NAACP introduced its court case against the film in the State of NY in 1921, and it had been covered by The NY Times in an document titled “FOES OF KLAN Deal with ‘BIRTH OF A NATION: Ask Motion Picture Table to Forbid Revival Here-Griffith and Dixon Defend Film.” The article, published on December 3rd, 1922, stated

Demands a revival showing of “The Birth of a Country” end up being prohibited in this express as a “glorification of the Klu Klux Klan and component of a local travel by Rev. Oscar Haywood to improve membership of the Klan were built yesterday at a hearing before the motion picture commission of the Talk about of NY by Walter F. White colored, Associate Executive Secretary for the Advancement of Colored People; Henry W. Shields, Senator Elect from the 21st District; and Alderman George W. Harris.[36]

The NAACP’s protests had been completed against a rescreening of the film in the Talk about of NY in 1921.[37] A lot of those involved were influential participants of the African American network, and they had been displeased by their portrayal in the film.[38] Finally the protest resulted in a court circumstance against the film, where D.W. Griffith was as well present.[39] Sadly for the NAACP, the judge of the case ruled in favour of the film’s screening by stating that it did not, in any way, encourage the Ku Klux Klan, but instead, was a reflection of post-Civil Battle America.[40] The protests showcased the racial tensions within the United States

during the early on 20th century, and they also reflected after the desire of African Us citizens to start to see the film include its theatre permits revoked. For most African Us citizens, the film added to their negative image among many White People in america, an image that they sought eradicate. To make matters worse, the judicial authorities did not assist the pleas of the NAACP. However, opposition to the film existed also before the recognized involvement of the NAACP, as in May 1921, African American war veterans protested against the film’s screening in front of the Capitol Theatre in New York.[41]

In Might 1921, African American veterans of the First Community War and their wives protested against the screening of The Birth of a Nation in Capitol Theatre in New York. On May 21st, 1921, “Negroes Oppose Film” was posted in The New York Times, and it protected these protests. This article reflected the views of the war veterans on the film by stating

Negro ex-servicemen in uniform, flanked by negro ladies, gathered before the administrative centre to protest against the revival of “The Birth of a Nation.” A few of the pickets carried placards which read “We represented America in France, why should ‘The Birth of a Country’ misrepresent us in this article?” Others distributed circulars published by the Nation Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons which demanded, “Stop the Klu Klux Klan propaganda in New York.”[42]

Ultimately, these protests did not result in a triumph for the picketers, as five of their organizers were arrested by the authorities, including three girls, although, they would all be released in a few days.[43] The inability of the protests evidenced having less regard the American political establishment possessed for African American war veterans and the stereotypical portrayal of their network in the film. In fact, D.W. Griffith continuing to defend the film, and following the May perhaps protests, he was quoted by The New York Times as saying

It is a source of regret to me that purely advised people are endeavoring to stir up animosity against ‘The Birth of a Nation.’ The opposition is certainly misguided, and was misproven and laid apart many years back. The leading villain in the tale is a white gentleman, who prospects a misguided pursuing into conflicts which usually do not reflect upon the negro. It there have been the slightest ground for protest against the film it seems to me that white men could have claim to it than negroes. I will be quite willing, however, to submit the problem under oath to the concern of the court.[44]

Griffith’s comments are not surprising taking into consideration the popular attitude towards African Americans at that time. Even so, his assertion that African People in america were not the top rated villains in the film does not have any justifiable ground taking into consideration the film’s stereotypical portrayal of these. Additionally it is interesting to notice that Griffith was open to take the problem to court. Taking into consideration the lack of regard American courts got for African Americans at the time, this is also not surprising. The lack of sympathy for African Us citizens among American courts is definitely further evidenced by lack of intervention by federal courts against the film. For this reason, despite a ban on the film in three claims and a few cities upon its initial launching in 1915, it seemed that the film would continue being screened in American theatres because of its popularity among the White populace.[45] Indeed, the NAACP continued to protest against the film up to the 1950s, as the film was continually revived in American theatres.

In 1950, picketers rallied against the revival of The Birth of a Nation beyond your Beverly Theatre at 823 Third Avenue.[46] The protesters had been upset the controversial film had been screened in the brand new York once again, despite it being 35 years since its primary launch. The President of the NAACP’s branch in NY, Lindsey H. White colored, led the protests, which was covered by The New York Times‘ content “FILM REVIVAL PROTESTED: N.A.A.C.P. Pickets ‘Birth of a Nation’ at Beverly Theatre”.[47] According to the article

The revival of D.W. Griffith’s silent-film classic “The Birth of a Nation,” was protested yesterday by Lindsey H. White colored, president of the New York branch, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mr. White mentioned that the film, right now being shown at the Beverly Theatre, 823 Third Avenue, “distorts the historical truths of Negro and White in the reconstruction governments that were set up in a variety of at the close of the Civil War.” The NAACP offers been picketing at the theatre since Saturday.[48]

The article reflects after the frustration among African Americans to have the film’s screening in the Beverly Theatre stopped. In addition, it showcases that while it had been three decades since the film’s launching, American attitudes towards the film’s content largely remained the same. Despite this, the level of popularity of the film had largely declined, as People in america became more thinking about the Western genre of movies in the 1950s and 1960s. With the decline of the film, it is becoming common understanding that the film is certainly no more as popular, nor simply because widely seen as it once was since the 1970s. For contemporary film historians from the 1990s onwards, the film continues to be regarded as one which transformed the American film market.

Perhaps no lines from a contemporary critic’s review of The Birth of a Nation better capture the film’s legacy on American cinema than these from Molly Haskell’s article “In ‘The Birth of a Country,’: The Birth of Serious Film” in The NY Times

The defining point in time for the motion picture as a mass moderate, an art and a disturbingly strong social force happened on a bitterly cold night on March 3, 1915, at the Liberty Theatre in NY. It was the environment premiere of D.W. Griffiths’ “The Birth of a Nation,” a meeting of such cultural magnitude that 80 years in the future, controversies still rage about the film among film scholars about its racially charged images.[49]

Throughout her analysis, Molly praises the film because of its ground-breaking innovations, vivid, imagery, and ability to keep an viewers engaged, which is remarkable for a film 2 hour and 40 mins long silent film stated in the early 20th century.[50] She actually is, however, vital of the film’s articles, especially its harmful portrayal of African Us citizens, as she will not agree with their stereotypical mannerisms in the film.[51] Even so, she concludes her review by stating “In Griffith’s masterpiece sublimity of expressed was marred by melodramatic racism. But “The Birth of a Country,” warts and all, is still a milestone: the movie that catapulted the medium from its 19th-century peep-display origins into its status as the fantastic new art type of the 20th century.”[52] So, it can be said that, while The Birth of a Country remains a controversial film among, there is absolutely no doubt it transformed the film industry into a corporate giant.

Upon its initial launching in 1915, The Birth of a Country was positively received by the American general public and news outlets alike. Even so, the film was staunchly opposed by Africans Americans because of its stereotypical portrayal of their community. Furthermore, the film reflected the tensions which existed between African People in america and White People in america from the late 19th to mid 20th century. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples was at the forefront of the opposition to the film, and remained therefore until the 1950s, and the film declined in acceptance. Almost all film historians agree that the film innovated the American film industry. However, they own criticized the film for its discriminatory portrayal of African People in america.



Griffith, D.W. The Birth of a Nation. 12 Reel Film. Directed by D.W. Griffith. New York: Epoch

Producing Co., 1915.

Primary Sources

“DEFENDS FILM Creation: Griffith Says He Regrets Complaint Against ‘Birth of a Nation.’”

The New York Times, May 9th, 1921. Accessed March 20th, 2017.

“FILM REVIVAL PROTESTED: N.A.A.C.P. Pickets ‘Birth of a Country’ at Beverly Theatre.” The New

York Times, May possibly 19th, 1950. Accessed March 20th, 2017.

“FOES OF KLAN Combat ‘BIRTH OF A NATION’: Ask Motion Picture Table to Forbid Revival Here-

Griffith and Dixon Defend Film.” The NY Times, December 3rd, 1922. Accessed March 20th, 2017.

“NEGRO PICKETS IN COURT: Decision Reserved on Protest Against Film “The Birth of a

Nation.” The New York Times, May 10th, 1921. Accessed March 21st.

“NEGROES OPPOSE FILM: Ex-Service Males State “Birth of a Country” Misrepresents Them.” The New

York Times, May possibly 7th, 1921. Accessed March 20th.

Haskell, Molly. “In ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ The Birth of Serious Film.” The NY Times, November

20th, 1995. Accessed March 21st, 2017.

Stern, Seymour. “BIRTHDAY OF A Basic.: The Twentieth Anniversary of ‘Birth of a Nation’

Recalls Its Significance.” The New York Situations, Mar 24, 1935. Accessed March 20th, 2017.

Secondary Sources

Christensen, Terry. Reel Politics, American Political Films from Birth of a Nation to Platoon. New

York: Basil Blackwell Inc, 1987.

[1] D.W. Griffith. The Birth of a Nation. 12 Reel Film. Directed by D.W. Griffith (NY: Epoch

Producing Co., 1915). Film.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] D.W. Griffith. The Birth of a Nation. 12 Reel Film. Directed by D.W. Griffith. Film.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] D.W. Griffith. The Birth of a Nation. 12 Reel Film. Directed by D.W. Griffith. Film.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] D.W. Griffith. The Birth of a Nation. 12 Reel Film. Directed by D.W. Griffith. Film.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Seymour Stern. “BIRTHDAY OF A Vintage.: The Twentieth Anniversary of ‘Birth of a Nation’ Recalls Its Significance.” (The New York Situations, Mar 24, 1935), X4.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Seymour Stern. “BIRTHDAY OF A Common.: The Twentieth Anniversary of ‘Birth of a Country’ Recalls Its Significance.”, X4.

[36] “FOES OF KLAN Deal with ‘BIRTH OF A Country’: Ask FILM Table to Forbid Revival Here-Griffith and Dixon Defend Film.” (The New York Times, December 3rd, 1922), 29.

[37] Ibid.

[38]A� “FOES OF KLAN Deal with ‘BIRTH OF A NATION’: Ask Motion Picture Board to Forbid Revival Here-Griffith and Dixon Defend Film.”, 29.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] “NEGROES OPPOSE FILM: Ex-Service Males Declare “Birth of a Nation” Misrepresents Them.” (The New

York Times, Can 7th, 1921), 8.

[42] Ibid.

[43] “NEGRO PICKETS IN COURT: Decision Reserved on Protest Against Film “The Birth of a

Nation.” (The NY Times, May 10th, 1921), 6.

[44] “DEFENDS FILM PRODUCTION: Griffith Says He Regrets Complaint Against ‘Birth of a Nation.’” (The New York Times, May 9th, 1921), 11.

[45] Terry Christensen. Reel Politics, American Political Films from Birth of a Country to Platoon (NY: Basil Blackwell Inc, 1987), 19.

[46] “FILM REVIVAL PROTESTED: N.A.A.C.P. Pickets ‘Birth of a Nation’ at Beverly Theatre.” (The New

York Times, May 19th, 1950), 25.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Molly Haskell. “In ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ The Birth of Serious Film”.” (The New York Times, November

20th, 1995), D5.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.