D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation Essay

D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation Essay

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D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation was one of the most controversial films of the 20th century. Praised by some and resented by others, it was one of the most popular films around the world for its time because of its chaotic effect on the general public. Set in the Civil War era, Birth of a Nation glorifies the Ku Klux Klan while portraying African Americans as reprobates whom sexually coerce white women. Many historians argue that the racist epic is responsible for the second Ku Klux Klan revival as well as a considerable amount of anti-black sentiment. While D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation glorified the Ku Klux Klan and demonized African Americans, it actually helped African Americans gain support for equality.
Birth of a Nation received mixed reactions from the public. In the United States, numerous Americans, specifically whites, praised Birth of a Nation as a cinematic masterpiece. As stated in the text, “D. W. Griffith’s epic of white supremacy, The Birth of a Nation, went over well with white audiences everywhere” (Sklar, 59). Although it was sensational for its use of new film elements, record-breaking ticket sales, and extended two-hour movie length, the most important factor of Birth of a Nation was the racist message it portrayed. As stated in the text, “Birth of a Nation seems as remarkable, and as flawed, in its art as in its theme of white supremacy” (Sklar, 61). Many people rallied behind Birth of a Nation’s racist message. Civil War tensions were retained in American culture at this time and the recent advent of African American sovereignty left many Americans with feelings of resentment. As such, people identified with its message. Amongst these supporters of Birth of a Nation was the President of the United ...


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Cook, Raymond. "The Man Behind "The Birth of a Nation"" The North Carolina Historical Review 39.04 (1962) 519-531. Web.
Polgar, Paul. "Fighting Lightning with Fire: Black Boston's Battle against "The Birth of a Nation"" Massachusetts Historical Review 10 (2008) 84-113. Web.
Sklar, Robert. Movie-made America: A Social History of American Movies. New York: Random House, 1975. Print.
Stokes, Melvyn. "Race, Politics, and Censorship: D. W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" in France, 1916-1923." Cinema Journal 50.01 (2010) 19-38. Web.
Weinberger, Stephen. "The Birth of a Nation and the Making of the NAACP." Journal of American Studies 45.01 (2011) 77-93. Web.
Willan, Brian. “'Cinematographic Calamity' or 'Soul-Stirring Appeal to Every Briton': Birth of a Nation in England and South Africa 1915-1931” Journal of Southern African Studies 39.01 (2013) 623-640. Web.

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