President Woodrow Wilson went to the premiere of one of the most controversial Hollywood “classics“. After he saw “The Birth Of A Nation “, it was alleged that he made the following statement, ” It is like writing history with Lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” Whether or not President Wilson really said that is not the point. This movie is indicative of the general views on race in America which are still present today. In the present election between McCain & Obama, Americans are being confronted with race baiting tactics. If you have ever seen this film, you know that it is blatantly racist & portrays blacks as brutes. The Ku Klux Klan is painted as being valiant saviors instead of terrorists.
Roger Ebert gave a great review & you can access the article by following the link that is after this excerpt:
” Certainly “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) presents a challenge for modern audiences. Unaccustomed to silent films and uninterested in film history, they find it quaint and not to their taste. Those evolved enough to understand what they are looking at find the early and wartime scenes brilliant, but cringe during the postwar and Reconstruction scenes, which are racist in the ham-handed way of an old minstrel show or a vile comic pamphlet. Cited until the 1960s as the greatest American film, “Birth” is still praised as influential, ground-breaking and historically important, yes–but is it actually seen?”
“It is a stark history lesson to realize that this film, for many years the most popular ever made, expressed widely-held and generally acceptable white views. Miss Gish reveals more than she realizes when she quotes Griffith’s paternalistic reply to accusations that he was anti-Negro: “To say that is like saying I am against children, as they were our children, whom we loved and cared for all of our lives.”
“In that case, “The Birth of a Nation” is worth considering, if only for the inescapable fact that it did more than any other work of art to dramatize and encourage racist attitudes in America.”
“Racism of the sort seen in “The Birth of a Nation” has not been acceptable for decades in American popular culture. Modern films make racism invisible, curable, an attribute of villains, or the occasion for optimistic morality plays. “Birth of a Nation” is unapologetic about its attitudes, which are those of a white Southerner, raised in the 19th century, unable to see African-Americans as fellow beings of worth and rights. It is based on Thomas Dixon’s racist play, The Clansman, and the fact that Griffith wanted to adapt it reveals his own prejudices.” (END OF EXCERPT) Follow this link for the article in it’s entirety :
Those racist attitudes that were so prevalent during 1915 have not vanished from America in 2008. We still have negative views of blacks, muslims, indians, etc… That’s why films like these are so relevant now. Even if it was made almost a century ago! Americans need to know the history of race perception. “The Birth of a Nation” is an offensive reminder of how race has been regarded in America. Another film that deals with racism is the 1998 flick “American History X”. It is a look at two brothers who grew up being taught racism by their father & have joined a white supremacy group. In the movie, circumstances change both brothers attitudes towards blacks.
It is easy to find parallels between” The Birth of A Nation” & “American History X“, even though they were made almost 70 years apart! The theme of both movies is white supremacy but that is where the congruence ends. You see, “American History X ” is like the finale of “The Birth of A Nation “. The characters realize the error of the ways & renounce their pro-white stance. There is some semblance of unity between blacks & whites at the end of the film. How I wish that one day we can change the racial attitudes towards one another in America. Because united we stand and divided we shall fall. This country was built not just for one but for all!
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