Resurrecting “The Birth of a Nation”

Alfred C. Chu, Staff Writer

Director D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” has been resurrected and is now for sale at chain electronic stores. Released in 1915, the silent film accounts the friendship between a northern family, the Stonemans, and a southern family, the Camerons, during pre/post Civil War era, President Lincoln’s assassination and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). 

I used the term “resurrected” for three reasons. First, it was made before Holly-wood existed, and now it’s been released on DVD. Second, we see firsthand of the roots of filmmaking. And thirdly, it’s possibly the first film to use political ideals onscreen.

 I admit this was the first silent picture film I’ve seen. But we’ve all heard the phrase “A picture if worth a thousand words.” And from these pictures, anyone can learn Griffith’s own prejudices and the racism during the film and the controversy that sparked after the film.

As a movie critic, this is one of the rare I don’t know why anybody, including occasions that the plot is not important in Griffith, would want any part of this film, a critique. It’s what symbolized, portrayed Maybe they thought they could tell a story and surrounds the film is important. But the way it really happened. Or maybe I’ll be fair for those that would like to know they thought they could be the first to use the plot. The two families, the Stonemans and the Cameron’s were friends until their sons were sent to fight each other on the battlefield

First and foremost, this is a racist film, It’s filled with racism even before racism was added to our dictionary. The KKK is seen as heroes and always to the rescue when the townspeople are attacked by slaves. Interestingly enough, with some makeup, Caucasian actors and actresses portray the slaves. This could be a clue into Griffith’s prejudices. Or given the time period, there weren’t many African American actors and actresses. Even if there were, how many of them would want to take part in this film? Simple. None. 

I don’t know why anybody, including Griffith would want any part of this film. Maybe they thought they could tell a story the way it really happened. Or maybe they thought they could be the first to use political ideals in a film. Or maybe they Or maybe they and the Cameron’s, were friends until the thought the best way to be remembered is being the villain. Or maybe they thought to sell a film is to sell controversy.  I agree that controversy sells. Take a look at the rapper Eminem and how many albums he sells or the recent film, “The Passion of the Christ,” which is now the highest grossing independent film of all time. “The Birth of a Nation” managed to gross $18 million during the 1913 release. I believe this is the only reason why Griffith was able to find projects after this one. 

This film will be remembered. Possibly as the first film to run over a hundred minutes. Most silent pictures during that time were less than thirty minutes. I must admit the film went into a lot of detail for the events before, during, and after the Civil War.

As a film, this isn’t bad. As a propaganda effort, it fails miserably. Why? Because I’m not simple minded. Given the technology during the time period, this film is in black and white (color tint was added to newer versions of the film). Ironically, so are the politics within the film. There was no gray area. I’m glad society has evolved into the gray area. There is no right and wrong anymore. It’s not what you believe and don’t believe. 

 

The Cougar Chronicle: The independent student news site of California State University, San Marcos