This essay Birth of a Nation has a total of 704 words and 3 pages.
Birth of a Nation
D. W. Griffith’s epic tale told in Birth of a Nation was a shocking one. The movie set box office records, taking in over eighteen million dollars. When it was released, it was one of the longest films ever made, over three hours in length. Some film scholars say that it is the most important film ever released. But despite all of these records and achievements, the story and the way that blacks of the South were depicted haunted blacks for decades to come. Showing the black man as a sexual predator to white females was inviting the South commence with wide-scale lynchings of innocent black men. If a black man looked the wrong way at a white woman, then he could be lynched without a thought of justice. This film advanced the suspicion and contributed to the practice of “Jim Crow” in the South.
Most shockingly, I discovered that the film is still used by the Ku Klux Klan today for recruitment purposes. The portrayal of the KKK in Birth of a Nation was one of heroes, instead of marauding racists. This appealed to white Americans’ views of the mythic South, and helped to boost membership in the KKK. Griffith later released a version of the movie without the KKK, but the damage had already been done. Of course, the NAACP attacked the film, and it was met with picketing upon its release. The raising of the KKK as heroes while portraying black men as sexual predators was sickening, and it is amazing to me that the movie is praised as it is.
Though the portrayal of both blacks and the KKK were extremely off track, the movie itself was an amazing work of cinema for its time. This was probably the first movie to use hundreds of extra in a battle scene. These scenes were well crafted by the filmmaker, and while not to the perfection of more modern films such as Braveheart, the technology and genius that the filmmaker used rival such films. To think that the movie was released only fifty years after the end of the Civil War makes the feat seem even more incredible. In seeing the huge battles, I did not need sound to hear the sounds of battle in my imagination. It would have been incredible if the movie had been made in the era where sound came into movies.
The title of the film is an interesting one. It is unknown whether the title refers to the birth of the reunited states, or the birth of the Ku Klux Klan. I tend to think that the film has a double meaning. In showing the KKK as good guys, it is obvious that Griffith was trying to show their birth as a positive event for the United States. Also, he was showing that the U.S. was once again reunited after the war, leading to the strengthening of the nation. It forebodes the future, when the South and the blacks living there are kept in check by the KKK, making the U.S. that much greater. Though it would be better to ignore this notion of the birth of the KKK, it cannot be due to the film’s content, although the film does show a truly “united” states.
The film is an incredible piece of propaganda for both the KKK and the Jim Crow system. People who knew nothing about the KKK or thought of them as white villains before Birth of a Nation probably changed their minds and donned hoods of their own upon seeing the film. The mainstream picture was probably the best advertisement that the KKK could have had. The vilifying of blacks also led to the Jim Crow system. When it was portrayed in this movie as acceptable, people in the South felt much better about doing horrible deeds to black citizens, denying blacks their civil rights.
Birth of a Nation was a powerful film that was a technological advancement, but it lacked the correct historical prospective. Anyone who made such a movie now would be branded a racist and probably would be hung in effigy in many black communities.
Topics Related to Birth of a Nation
White supremacy in the United States, Reconstruction Era, Anti-Catholicism in the United States, Christian terrorism in the United States, Ku Klux Klan, The Birth of a Nation, KKK, Lynching, The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan
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