The greatest films of all time:8.The Birth of a Nation (1915)

I will make a song for these states that no state may under any circumstances be subjected to another state,                                                                                    And I will make a song that there shall be comity by day and by night between all the states, and between any two of them,                                                And I will make a song for the ears of the President, full of weapons and menacing points,                                                                                                                                   And behind the weapons countless dissatisfied faces;                                                              And a song make I of the One form’d out of all,                                                                   The fang’d and glittering One whose head is over all,                                                               Resolute warlike One including and over all,                                                                               …….Democracy! near at hand to you a throat is now inflating itself and joyfully singing…….And I will not sing with reference to a day, but with reference to all days,

Walt Whitman                                                                                                                                                                                                 Starting from Paumanok                                                                                                                    Leaves of Grass                                                                                                                                1891  

Introduction:

birth-of-a-nation-title-card-1

The birth of a nation, is an American epic movie about how this country was unified and became The United States of America or USA as we know it today. This frontier movie or the first major American feature film was made by David Wark Griffith (1875-1948) in 1915, at the time when Europe was burning in the World War I (1914-1919). The film was a pioneer in cinema with never seen before advanced camera and editing techniques, by the man who is collectively known as the Father of American Cinema or Hollywood. With a low budget cost of $110,000, it returned tens of millions of dollars in profits, making it, perhaps, the most profitable film of all time, taking into account the inflation rate. (1) Despite all these, the film for its content of portraying Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as the saviors of the white south against the blacks during the “Reconstruction” era after the Civil War, has been widely condemned. This collective condemnation, not only affected the film at least in US later on, if not at the time, it also outrageously disgraced Griffith, who had made 500 films by the time of his death in solitude! (2-3)

This silent film with a length of more than 3 hours, unheard and unusual for the time and years to come, in two acts, is a historical depiction of how the states of America, became united. The first act is on the civil war (1861-1865) of the north against the south to join them by force to the “Union” and make the whole country as one nation. The second act is after the civil war and during the reconstruction era (1865-1877) in the south, to transform the southern united states as directed by the congress with the reconstruction of the states and the society. Later on we will discuss and review these events, that are the content of the story of the film as a historical fiction, for the wrong understanding of many including the media, the film critics and film historians for the unjust condemnation of the film and its great creator. Unfortunately none of these critics have done a descent study and review of the historical events in the film, that indeed happened and cost Americans close to 1,000,000 lives in the civil war, more than any of their wars and both World War I & II combined, and the failure of their “Reconstruction” and transformation of the south and worsening the racial conflict in the south and the whole country. (4-5) But before all these, lets know better the man behind the camera who caused all these negative commotions, and at the same time is respected by other filmmakers, world-wide as a genius, and not deserving a life in isolation at the end!      

D.W.Griffith:

griffith-1

Before The Birth of a Nation:

Griffith was born in Crestwood, Kentucky to Mary Perkins and Jacob Griffith, who were of Anglo-Welsh ancestry. Jacob Griffith was a confederate army colonel in the civil war and was elected as a Kentucky state legislator. Griffith was raised a Methodist and was taught by his older sister, Mattie Griffith at home. After his father died when he was ten, the family struggled with poverty. When Griffith was 14, his mother abandoned the farm and moved the family to Louisville, where she opened a boarding house, that failed shortly after. Griffith then left high school to help support the family, taking a job in a dry goods store and later in a bookstore. He began his creative career as a playwright but met with little success with only one of his plays being accepted for a performance. Griffith then decided to become an actor, and appeared in many plays as an extra in Biograph company. In 1908, Biograph’s main director, Wallace McCutcheon became ill and his son, Wallace McCutcheon, Jr., took his place, but was not able to bring the studio any success. As a result, Biograph co-founder, Henry “Harry” Marvin, decided to give Griffith the position, and the young man made his first short movie for the company, “The adventures of Dollie”. Griffith would end up directing 48 shorts for the company that year. Four years later he produced, directed and released his first feature, Judith of Bethulia, in 1913, one of the earliest to be produced in the United States. Because of company resistance to his goals, and his cost overruns on the film, $30,000,Griffith left Biograph. He took his stock company of actors with him and joined the Mutual Film Coroporation, and formed a studio with the Majestic Studio manager Harry Aitken that became known as Reliance-Majestic Studios (that was later renamed Fine Arts Studio). (6-10)

 The Birth of a Nation:

Through Reliance-Majestic Studios, Griffith produced and directed “The Birth of a Nation”, in 1915, as one of the first feature length American films, as most previous films had been less than one hour long. The Birth of a Nation changed the industry’s standard in a way still influential today, but aroused much controversy due to its depiction of the KKK’s as the saviors of the white south against the black south with strong criticism from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). But despite all these, the film was the first “blockbuster” motion picture, and broke all the box office records, and benefitted people such as Louis Mayer who with the money he made, started his own studios of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. (11)

intolerance_film

 Despite “The Birth of a Nation”, opens up with the disclosure that the film will attempt “…to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue…”, the film has not been yet understood, but condemned by almost every critic, historian or organization who all tried it to to be censored and its showing stopped. Griffith as a true artist, instead of defending himself and the movie by uttering any explanation or justification, responded to the critics, by his second great film “Intolerance”, a year later in 1916. In this feature film, Griffith spelled out his intention in both films to show how “intolerance” of others, races, cultures, ideas, and even the truth leads to injustice, hatred, war and misery. He showed well that throughout the history, this fact has always been the case and American history, depicted in The Birth of a Nation is not different. But the misunderstanding and “intolerance” or “injustice” that had already befallen on Griffith from all over had done the damage and “Intolerance” was not a financial success, and the huge budget that Griffith had put into the film’s production, could not be recovered in its box office, and this contributed to his financial ruin for the rest of his life.(12)

 After “The Birth of a Nation” and “Intolerance”:

Finally Griffith’s production partnership was dissolved in 1917, and he had to found The United Artists, together with Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks who also wanted to have control of their own film productions, not by major studios. At United Artists, Griffith continued to make films, but never could achieve box office grosses as high as The Birth of a Nation. Despite still making great films at this period and in his own founded studio, such as “Broken Blossoms” (1919) “Way down east” (1920), “America” (1924), and “Isn’t life wonderful” (1924), due to the failures at the box office, he was forced to leave the United Artists. After “Abraham Lincoln” in 1930 and “The Struggle” in 1931, Griffith never made another film. Mostly forgotten by movie-goers of the time, Griffith was held in awe by many in the film industry. In the mid-1930s, he was given a special Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. On the morning of July 23, 1948, Griffith was discovered unconscious in the lobby at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles, where he had been living alone. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage on the way to a Hollywood hospital. A large public service was held in his honor at the Hollywood Masonic Temple, but few stars came to pay their last respects. He is buried at Mount Tabor Methodist Church Graveyard in Centerfield, Kentucky.

After Griffith’s death:

griffith-5

In 1950, The Directors Guild of America provided a stone and bronze monument for his gravesite, and later on a career achievement award to his name. (13) But later on, in 1999 at the turn of new millennium, the Directors Guild of America, due to intolerance of critics and propaganda against Griffith, dumped this prestigious award to dramatize the disapproval of the racial stereotypes its members perceive in the pioneer filmmaker’s movies. The DGA President, Jack Shea said in a highly ironic statement in December 1999, “the time is right to create a new ultimate honor for film directors that better reflects the sensibilities of our society at this time in our national history.” (14)

 Motion picture legend Charlie Chaplin has called Griffith “The Teacher of us All”. This sentiment was widely shared with great American filmmakers such as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Cecil B. DeMille, King Vidor, Victor Fleming, Raoul Walsh, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Stanley Kubrick, and even great international masters of cinema such as Jean Renoir, and Sergei Eisenstein, who have spoken of their respect for the director of “The Birth of a Nation” and “Intolerance”. Orson Welles has said “I have never really hated Hollywood except for its treatment of D. W. Griffith. No town, no industry, no profession, no art form owes so much to a single man.” Griffith has five films preserved in the United States National Film Registry deemed as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” These are Lady Helen’s Escapade (1909), A corner in wheat (1909), The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance: Love’s struggle throughout the ages (1916), and Broken Blossoms (1919). (15-16)

griffith-4

Griffith’s Ideology through his films:

Before probing deeper into reviewing and analyzing “The Birth of a Nation” and the content of the film as part of the history of the United States of America, we need to briefly trace the line of interest of Griffith in story telling. Griffith’s films and not only the Birth of a Nation is about “intolerance” of humans’ against each others, so causing injustice, wars, murders and misery of own kind. After The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, Griffith depicted these concepts or facts of humans lives in a World War I film, “Hearts of the World” in 1918, that supposed to be a war propaganda movie per production schedule, but he made it an anti-war story with parallel romances set against the horrors of war and Griffith re-edited it after the armistice to emphasize this. More than once the wording of the intertitles comments that in wartime “men of all races” commit the terrible atrocities. He showed well how the militarists responsible for the war are the villains and the common people, civilian and soldier alike, are the victims. A year later in 1919, “Broken Blossoms” depicted an idealistic young Chinese man going to England to preach his eastern philosophy of peace, but soon finding himself disillusioned in a London slum. There he befriends and helps shelter an abused, illegitimate adolescent girl who is regularly beaten by her prizefighter father. When the father learns of the situation, his narrow mind and violent temper lead to a terrible and fateful confrontation. This film took some ignorant critics who had been indulgent and critical of Griffith by this point in time, and had labeled him racist, by surprise and they ranked it as his greatest film, and the first tragic masterpiece of the cinema. (14)

griffith-heartsoftheworld1 

Again a year after, in 1920, the next huge popular hit for Griffith was “Way Down East”, an old nineteenth-century stage melodrama that he elevated to near epic proportions. Once more Griffith stresses the intolerance of “moral majority” in the story of a young woman tricked into a fake marriage and quickly abandoned, after having a baby out of wedlock, driven out of the house into a snowstorm by her indignant employer. Griffith’s massive melodramatic epic “Orphans of the Storm” in 1922 was his last masterpiece, technically is dazzling in photography and editing. It shows his work at its creative peak, interweaving human emotions of sisterly love with political commentary on oppressive governments. In eighteenth-century France, two poor orphans raised as sisters, one of whom is blind, and unknowingly the daughter of a disgraced aristocrat, but are forcibly separated during a trip to Paris. They then must survive in vastly different surroundings amidst the excesses, terrors, and turmoil leading up to and during the French Revolution. (14)

 griffith-brokenblossoms

In his last major silent film, “America” in 1924, Griffith goes one step back to show the history of America, perhaps as a prologue to The Birth of a Nation, to the age of the European settlement, the American revolution and independence. The story shifts between the British in Northern New York, and the colonial patriots in Massachusetts and Virginia. British general Captain Walter Butler, a loyal and ruthless supporter to the king, leads the Iroquois Native Americans in viciously barraging attacks against the settlers, including the massacre of women and children, who are siding with the Revolution. The film until the conclusion at the end with the surrender of the British troops, the declaration of independence and the presidential inauguration of George Washington, follows the same line of the truth in humans’ history, that is intolerance, injustice, war and misery, while love struggles in between. Griffith as an idealist, whilst showing all these atrocities, injustice and wars, is searching inside, for redeeming humans with love, as a common denomination of unity. Despite this prophecy that was a rarity in his time and even to some degree today, the critics once again superficially while calling the film’s climax very original and thrilling, complete with action and exciting stunts in the rescue scenes, they criticized Griffith’s last major silent picture as lacking in modernity of the time. (17)

griffith-waydowneast 

At the same year of 1924, Griffith made “Isn’t Life Wonderful?”, again with similar content theme of anti-war and optimism of a better life with love, a homeless family from Poland in the wake of World war I, moving to Germany, where in struggle to survive the conditions there, during the Great Inflation. Inga is a Polish war orphan who has only accumulated a small amount of money from the rubble and hopes to marry Paul. Weakened by poison gas, Paul begins to invest in Inga’s future and he serves as their symbol of optimism. Later on and before totaling quitting his efforts on filmmaking that he glorified in America, Griffith made two sound films, Abraham Lincoln (1930) for United Artists, and The Struggle (1931), produced independently. Abraham Lincoln pleased many critics and audiences of its day, but again was criticized for some technical insignificance, while was counted as worth to watch only because of the strong performance of the popular star of the time, Walter Huston. Despite “The Struggle” Griffith’s last movie, presented a freedom of camera movement, and superb editing of his style, and its realism, the critics once again were turned off by its moralizing melodrama on the evils of alcohol, despite its cinematic flair and its sincere performances, so giving up on his ideals and futile hopes to rescue the humans’ soul, Griffith never made another picture. (14)

 griffith-america

The Birth of a Nation: How America was born

America—> The Birth of a Nation—> Intolerance:

The Birth of a Nation, while a frontier motion picture, a long feature film and so technically unique that defined American cinema and founded Hollywood, for others to make a fortune, was not understood or deliberately was not tolerated due to “intolerance”. The opponents were offended to see a vivid depiction of early American history on screen, a history of war, intolerance and injustice. But that was the sheer fact and how United States of America became such. Griffith, perhaps thinking of the opposition not understanding his theme of intolerance, injustice, murder and war, made his second great feature film and named it clearly “Intolerance”! He went beyond the time and America and showed well that intolerance and injustice have always brought up hatred and war, and the only way to survive the world will be through love and perhaps religion, reaching out to God and Jesus. Since this second film was not directly about America to insult some who wanted to stay in oblivion and denial, “Intolerance” was received better and some critics hailed it as a masterpiece and the best of Griffith’s. Even AFI (American Film Institute) who had “The Birth of a Nation” at the rank of 44 in their 100 greatest American film of all time in 1997, dropped this film and instead replaced it with “Intolerance” at the rank of 49 in their 2007 edition list! But since the main reason of opposition to The Birth of a Nation was due to its content of what really happened in the “Reconstruction” era, “intolerance” was not much of rescue to Griffith and the film to bring his name and the real position of the film back in the eyes of media, Hollywood and other oppositions.

 griffith-2

So Griffith had to make another movie to spell things out of what really happened in the formation of United States of America. That was again not by verbal or written explanation, or even interviews, as Griffith was not such a man and a true artist, so he made another movie in 1924 and that was “America”. This feature film was a last resort to explain and bring back the memory of some to the process of birth of the United States of America. As reviewed briefly above, “America” goes back to the history of settlement of white people, mostly English and French to North America, whipping out the indigenous Indians who lived on the land for thousand of years, and have almost always been depicted as savages in Hollywood films, to establish a country of “Whites”. The original settlers who had infiltrated into the continent in 17th century, by 1770s had formed 13 colonies, but still under the British rules and taxes. This gradually brought some American Patriots (as they called themselves) adhering to a political ideology called “Republicanism”, to call for independence from the British Monarchy. This of course was not easy and led them to the “Revolutionary War” against the loyal British troops, that finally concluded in their victory and inauguration of George Washington as the first president of United States of America under a new constitution in 1789. Although Griffith as a filmmaker could not show the rest of American history, immersed in war and injustice, the rest of the birth of the Nation according to history books (19-22) goes as follows:

 american-mexican-war

From American Revolution to Mexican War:

The population of the United States by the time of independence, being a Republic with a president, at the start of 19th century was not more than 4 millions, settled on expansive lands. But the Republic or the “Confederation” was still after further expansion, so by the time of the third president, Thomas Jefferson, Louisiana Territory was purchased from France. The population grew rapidly to 7.2 millions in 10 years by 1810, but still living on a very vast land. In their expansion northward, Americans invaded their north border to Canada in another war with the royal British troops in 1812 to 1815, but were defeated.

 Then American colonists who had already infiltrated the Mexican province of Texas rebelled against the Mexican government, and the United States annexed Texas in 1936 and expanded its territory farther south. This escalated a dispute between the two countries and led to Mexican-American war between 1846-1848, after the proposal of the newly elected American president, James Polk to purchase the lands between Nueces River and Rio Grande in 1844. US forces occupied new Mexico and California and invaded parts of Norheastern and Northwest Mexico, and even captured Mexico City. This led to a peace treaty and annexation of New Mexico and California at a cost of only $15 million that US paid Mexico for the damages of the war. (23-24)

 The war with Mexico, while expanded US territories farther south and west and to the Pacific, expanded slavery and a large gap difference between the north and the south, that finally led to the Civil War (1861-1865). President Ulysses Grant (from 1869 to 1877) who as a young army lieutenant, fought in Mexico, later on wrote in his memoirs: “… I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.” (25)

 american-mexican-war-2

Grant also expressed the view that the war against Mexico had brought punishment on the United States in the form of the American Civil War: “The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.” (26) The Mexican war nevertheless united the U.S. in a common cause and swelled the army from just over 6,000 to more than 115,000. As early as 1880, the “Republican Campaign Textbook” by the Republican Congressional Committee described the war as “Feculent, reeking Corruption” and “one of the darkest scenes in our history—a war forced upon our and the Mexican people by the high-handed usurpations of Pres’t Polk in pursuit of territorial aggrandizement of the slave oligarchy.” (27) The Mexican war was one of the most decisive events for the U.S. in the first half of the 19th century, for the nation growing as a military power. But at the same time, divided the nation and politicians within the parliaments, over expansion and slavery (that was not resolved but rather in many ways inflamed it) and led finally to the American Civil War. (28)

  From the Civil War to Reconstruction era:

The American Civil War, the first act of the Griffith’s movie, “The Birth of a Nation” that as described above was a sequel of the Mexican war, led to the “Reconstruction” era, the second act of the movie that created all the protests, that will be detailed somewhat in the following:

 reconstruction

The Reconstruction era (1865-1877) was a period after the civil war run by the “Radical Republicans” to transform the southern United States to conform with the North. So harsh terms and policies were imposed and the rights of “Freedmen” or blacks were upgraded, removing the confederates from power and enfranchised the freedmen. A Republican coalition came to power in nearly all the southern states and set out to transform the society by using the U.S army that in fact occupied the southern states. A Freedmen’s Bureau was established to protect the legal rights of freedmen, negotiated labor contracts, and set up schools and even churches for them. Thousands of Northerners came South as missionaries, teachers, businessmen and politicians, who were called by the southern people as “Carpetbaggers”. (29)  As we see in the inter-title card below from the movie, it is the quote from Woodrow Wilson, the 13th president of the United States from 1913-1921, that Griffith inserted in the film as a historical fact and belief of southerners such as the president himself:

wilson-heel-of-black-south-2  

 President Ulysses S. Grant supported the Radical Reconstruction and enforced the protection of African Americans in the South through the use of the Enforcement Acts passed by the Congress. The act enforced militarily conducted new elections in which the freed slaves could vote, while whites who had held leading positions under the Confederacy were temporarily denied the vote and were not permitted to run for office. This caused the formation of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) by the southern white supremacists to bring back their power. Grant suppressed the KKK by military force, but was unable to resolve the escalating tensions inside the Republican party between the Carpetbaggers and the Scalawags (native whites in the South). Meanwhile, self-styled Conservatives (in close cooperation with the Democratic Party) strongly opposed Republican rule, and alleged widespread corruption by the Carpetbaggers, excessive state spending and ruinous taxes. The opposition violently counterattacked and regained power in each “redeemed” Southern state by 1877. Meanwhile, public support for Reconstruction policies faded in the North, as voters decided the Civil War was over and slavery was dead. (30)  As we read in another inter-title card below from the movie, it is the quote from Woodrow Wilson, the 13th president of the United States from 1913-1921, that Griffith inserted in the film as a his opinion about the KKK like other white supremacist southerners such as the president himself, and not Griffith who was a proponent of peace and anti-war, anti-racism and anti-intolerance:

wilson-quote-in-birth-of-a-nation

 reconstruction-2

The Reconstruction brought up the “Redeemers” with the help of the Democrats, who strongly opposed Reconstruction, regained control of the House of Representatives in 1874, the presidential election vote in 1876, and finally the removal of the army from the southern states in 1877 as part of a Congressional bargain to elect Republican Rutherford B. Hayes as president. Hereby the reconstruction era failed, the slavery in the south reinstated and the Southern Democrats held the South’s black community under increasingly tight control. Economically, the blacks were stripped of independence, as new laws gave white planters the control over credit lines and property. Effectively, the black community was placed under a three-fold subjugation that was reminiscent of slavery. (31)

Lets blame it elsewhere:

Anti-war legacy:

Griffith well has shown in his anti-war films, the blame is on the militarists who are responsible for the wars and terrors, while the common people, civilian and soldier alike, are the victims. Griffith in fact is also a frontier in anti-war movies, starting with “The Birth of a Nation”, and continued with “Intolerance”, “Hearts of the World”, “America”, and “Isn’t Life Wonderful?”. This line of ideology continued through great works of cinema against the casualties of war in “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930), “Hell on earth” (1931),”Gone with the wind” (1939), “The great dictator” (1940), “Casablanca” (1942), “The best of our lives” (1946), “Paths of glory” (1957), “Hiroshima mon amour” (1959), “Two women” (1960), “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), “The battle of Algiers” (1966), “The sand pebbles” (1966), “Little big man” (1970), “The deer hunter” (1978), “Apocalypse now” (1979), “Das Boot” (1981), “Platoon” (1986), “Full metal jacket” (1987), “Born on the fourth of July” (1989), “Casualties of war” (1989), “The Panama deception” (1992), “Saving private Ryan” (1998), “The thin red line” (1998), “Black Hawk down” (2002), “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004), “Letters from Iwo Jima” (2006), and “American sniper” (2014).

 So the rise of KKK in the south of US after the civil war, was not a fault of Griffith and does not make “The Birth of a Nation” a racist film, or as some critics have degraded it as a stain on American cinema. The blame as history tells us is on the politicians and militarists, not on the blacks or whites, common people or soldiers, who make wars for their expansions and profits. The blame of KKK and the terror of the southern blacks is on the republicans of the time, who forced the war on the south for a compulsory union to create one big “Nation” and to expand and rule the world by military power. The Republicans in North at the time, knew well that with slavery they could not expand and rule the world, so on the surface they looked like “anti-slavery” and “anti-racist” and “pro-blacks”. The south at the time, knew well that with their principal agriculture, mostly cotton, upon unification, will be over-controlled by the industrial North. So the south went to the war and lost and at the end was overwhelmed by the North, was occupied and over-ruled by military force, lost their hegemony and integration.

 KKK was a wrong retaliatory reaction of an “eye for an eye”, a “tooth for a tooth” response or war with war, terror with terror, murder with murder (as Griffith clearly has shown this fact in his movies), that did not resolve the conflict between the south and north, blacks against whites, but deepened it for decades to come! At the end as Griffith has declared it, the militarists and politicians made deal, leaving the reconstruction and their military occupation to keeping the presidency at the time, in the hands of Republicans and give the south back to the white majority and supremacists to go on with their slavery and over-rule the blacks under harsher conditions than before the civil war, until 1964 civil rights act and 1965 voting right act that southern blacks regained their long lost rights as equal Americans by the fifteenth amendment. (32)

 Conclusion:

Much time, effort and research were spent here to redeem Griffith and “The Birth of a Nation”, as the American legend of filmmaking and the father of American cinema, and its great film. D.W.Griffith and his groundbreaking film are unique in many aspects unlike any others, including the wrong disgrace that both suffered to this date by “intolerance” and “ignorance” that he strived hard to expose and challenge. This redemption, after 101 years past the release of “The Birth of a Nation” and 68 years after the death of Griffith is still needed.

 Most recently a picture under the same title has been written, directed and acted by Nate Parker that is scheduled for release this October. This new film is about Nat Turner, a black slave who rose to a rebellion in 1831 against the white landlords who imposed injustice and slavery against the black peers like him. Nate Parker in an interview admitted to the use of the same title as the film of Griffith, “very much by design”: “Griffith’s film relied heavily on racist propaganda to evoke fear and desperation as a tool to solidify white supremacy as the lifeblood of American sustenance. Not only did this film motivate the massive resurgence of the terror group the Ku Klux Klan and the carnage exacted against people of African descent, it served as the foundation of the film industry we know today. I’ve reclaimed this title and re-purposed it as a tool to challenge racism and white supremacy in America, to inspire a riotous disposition toward any and all injustice in this country (and abroad) and to promote the kind of honest confrontation that will galvanize our society toward healing and sustained systemic change.” (33)

 birth_of_a_nation_2016_film

While this new feature film made with $10 millions in only 27 days, but was bought by Fox Searchlight Pictures for $17.5 millions (34-35), re-telling a true story, in the pre-civil war era, it is a story of vengeance that once again confirms the ideology of Griffith. A riotous revenge that reportedly killed 60 white people, and in retaliation, the white supremacists killed more than 200 innocent blacks who some were not even involved in the rebellion. (36) Once again, as Griffith in his “Intolerance” spelled out, the ancient revenge law of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” prevails the humans’ fate and “the dark side of the wrong” as Griffith declared in the opening of his “The Birth of a Nation” rules the injustice, murders and wars and the evil is not yet overcome! The question is now, is it the time to inflame more racial tensions in America by this new movie, or we need to find the root of racism in this country and wipe it out?!    

 Hollywood needs to stop fostering the racial conflicts and tensions that have always existed in USA. A search in the internet, such as “thetoptens.com” rates United States of America as the most racist countries in the world. This racial tension is not only between the blacks and whites, as among all races and cultures in US, e.g. Hispanics, Orientals, Arabs, Muslims, Jews, etc. The recent shooting to death of the Baton Rouge police officer, “Montrell Jakcson” has escalated the racial tension in US, that some over the media and internet has called it a “racial war” (e.g.usatoday.com, csmonitor.com, theguardian.com, washingotontimes.com, etc.)! At the time that America for the first time having a black president, the racial tensions have not resolved but apparently gotten worse. One wonders why Americans call each others by the color skin (white, black, yellow), or by their ancestor origins (African American, Chinese, Arabs), or by their religious affiliations (Christians, Jews, Muslims), etc. Americans should be called “Americans”, no matter what color of skin, or background or religion they have. They all live in the same country, work and fight for the same country, pay the same tax, so they all should be the same and treated the same. Violence and terrors bring on more violence and terrors, intolerance and injustice, as Griffith tried hard to show and invite us all for tolerance and love of each other.

 griffith-3

Now lets rate our movie based on our criteria:

  1. Originality: The Birth of a Nation is the most original film of its own kind, also the longest silent feature film of all time, a frontier in American and the world cinema. From the story content, as a historical epic, the struggles of a nation in becoming, to the technical innovations of camera movements, editing and so on, the movie is not only original but a frontier.
  2. Technicality: The technicality of The Birth of a Nation is in its length of time, camera movements, parallel and fast editing, that were all creative for its time and for years to come, has influenced other filmmakers world-wide.
  3. Impact Factor: Perhaps no film in the history of Cinema has had such positive and negative impact not only on the film industry, and Hollywood that Griffith created, but in the American society at large. The story content of the film and its historical epic aspect of it, became an example of many other historical epic films made thereafter. The anti-war message of the film, was repeated so many times and in the context of so many other wars across the world that a sample of such movies list were discussed earlier above. The techniques of the film have been lessons for great filmmakers of the silent era and thereafter that a list of them were mentioned briefly who all had great respect for Griffith. The negative impact of the film could never surpass any film in the history of cinema, as on other films or filmmaker ever has been so degraded and isolated even by some of his own colleagues and Hollywood that he created. Ironically the subjects of his film, that is simply “intolerance”, “hatred”, and “war” against “love” and “tolerance” have rarely been appreciated and understood. In fact one impact of the film could be disposing the film critics for their ignorance and poor review and analyzing their film subjects. The critics as if written by one person, but others regurgitate it, are all the same, as it is done at the present moment, for the new “The Birth of a Nation” by Nate Parker, but positively without a through and impartial analysis!
  4. Survival: The Birth of a Nation of D.W. Griffith has survived well over 100 years and is still a matter of example, admiration and homage, discussion, dispute and confusion, and perhaps should be a cause of guilt feeling for those who neglected such a great work and its great creator, and above all for crashing an ideal!

 References:

  1. W. Griffith. Encyclopedia Britannica.
  2. The birth of a nation: When Hollywood glorified the KKK. HistoryNet. Retrieved 2016-02-27.
  3. Brooks, Xan (2013-07-29). The birth of a nation: a gripping masterpiece…and a stain on history. The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-02-27.
  4. Long, E. B. The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac, 1861–1865. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971.
  5. Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s unfinished revolution, 1863–1877 (1988) reprinted in Francis G. Couvares, ed., (2000).
  6. Blizek, William L. (2009). The Continuum Companion to Religion and Film. A&C Black.
  7. Kirsner, Scott (2008). Inventing the movies : Hollywood’s epic battle between innovation and the status quo, from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs (1st ed. ed.). [s.l.]: CinemaTech Books.
  8. W. Griffith biography. Starplus.com.
  9. Who’s who in Victorian Cinema. Victorian-cinema.net.
  10. W.Griffith:Hollywood Independent. Cobbles.com
  11. The rise and fall of Jim Crow. Jim Crow Stories. The Birth of a Nation. PBS. March 21, 1915.
  12. Sadoul, Georges (1972 [1965]). Dictionary of Films, P. Morris, ed. & trans. University of California Press.
  13. Schickel, Richard (1996). W. Griffith: An American Life. Hal Leonard Corporation.
  • Jacobs, Christopher. Pioneer film director dishonored by those who follow in his footsteps. Movies Editor, High Plains Reader.
  1. Leitch, Thomas; Poague, Leland (2011). A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock. John Wiley & Sons.
  2. Sergei Eisenstein-Biography.Leninimports.com.
  3. David Wark Griffith; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1924). Gerrit J. Lloyd, ed. W. Griffith presents America. D.W. Griffith Inc.
  4. Magill’s Survey of Silent Films, Vol.1 A-FLA p.137 edited by Frank N. Magill c. 1982.
  5. Stokes, Melvyn ed. The State of U.S. History (2002).
  6. Holloway, Vanessa. In Search of Federal Enforcement: The Moral Authority of the Fifteenth Amendment and the Integrity of the Black Ballot, 1870-1965 (2015).
  7. Deloria, V., Jr., (1997) Red Earth White Lies: Native Americans and The Myth of Scientific Fact.
  8. Fagan, Brian M. 2005. Ancient North America: The Archaeology of a Continent. Fourth Edition. New York. Thames & Hudson Inc.
  9. Alcaraz, Ramón, et al. The Other Side or Notes for the History of the War between Mexico and the United States. New York: Burt Franklin 1850, republished 1970.
  10. Santoni, Pedro. “U.S.-Mexican War” in Encyclopedia of Mexico, Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn 1997.
  11. Ulysses S. Grant quotes on the military academy and the Mexican war. Fadedgiant.net.
  12. Personal memoirs of general U.S.Grant-Complete by Ulysses S. Grant. Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.
  13. Mexican-American War description from the Republican campaign textbook.
  14. Frazier, Donald S. ed. The U.S. and Mexico at War, (1998), 584; an encyclopedia with 600 articles by 200 scholars.
  15. Foner, Eric . Reconstruction: America’s unfinished revolution, 1863–1877 (1988) p 604 reprinted in Francis G. Couvares, ed., (2000).
  16. Baker, Bruce. What Reconstruction Meant: Historical Memory in the American South (2007).
  17. Foner, Eric. “A Short History of Reconstruction: 1863–1877”, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1990.
  18. Davidson, Chandler and Grofman, Bernard. Quiet Revolution in the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.
  19. Rezayazdi, Soheil (January 25, 2016). Five questions with The Birth of a Nation director Nate Parker. Fimmaker.
  20. Ford, Rebecca (January 20, 2016). “Birth of a Nation”:The slave-revolt movie that will have Sundance talking. The Hollywood Reporter.
  21. Lang, Brent; Setoodeh, Ramin (January 25, 2016). Sundance: foxsearchlight lands “Birth of a Nation” in massive $17.5 million deal. Variety.
  22. Bisson, Terry. Nat Turner: Slave Revolt Leader. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2005.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A new Cinema site