The Birth of a Nation was a silent film directed by D.W. Griffith, released in the winter of 1915.
The film was based on the novel and play, The Clansmen, by Thomas Dixon. His 1946 obituary, Dixon’s writings are described as the following:
A large part of the voluminous writings of Thomas Dixon was devoted to upholding the “purity” of the white race against what he described as the dangers of Negro encroachment through social equality and miscegenation.
While The Birth of a Nation is important because it showcased new filming techniques and innovations, it receives much criticism over it blatant racist viewpoints. The movie promotes the need for a dominant pro-white society and glorifies the Ku Klux Klan as a necessary “policing force” in order to keep aggressive African-American men away from certain things – mainly white women.
From the onset of the film’s release, African-Americans boycotted and picketed movie theaters and denounced The Birth of a Nation‘s message. In 1921 during a theater revival of the film, the New York Times wrote about African-American servicemen who opposed the film. One of the picketing signs stated: “We represented America in France, why should ‘Birth of a Nation’ misrepresent us here?”
The film is credited with the revival of the Ku Klux Klan’s “second era” in the 1920’s. The Klan used The Birth of a Nation as a recruitment tool for new followers.
The Birth of a Nation took eight months to film and over 18,000 people and 3,000 horses used.
Its production cost were $$110,000, the most expensive film up to that date. By 1949, it had grossed more than $50 million. It was the first million-dollar movie.
In 1916, The Birth of a Nation was the first movie shown in the White House. The president at that time was Woodrow Wilson.
New York Times, “Written on the Screen,” February 28, 1915.
New York Times, “Negroes Oppose Film: Ex-Service Men Say ‘Birth of a Nation’ Misrepresents Them,” May 7, 1921.
New York Times, “Negroes Pickets in Court,” May 19, 1921.
Seymour Stern, “Birthday of a Classic: The Twentieth Anniversary of ‘Birth of a Nation’ Recalls its Significance,” New York Times, March 24, 1935.
New York Times, “Negroes Protest Old Film Classic,” May 19, 1938.
New York Times, Thomas Dixon Dies; Wrote ‘Clansman,’ April 4, 1946.
Calney, Mark, “D.W. Griffith and ‘The Birth of A Monster:’ How the Confederacy Revived the KKK and Created Hollywood,” The American Almanac, January 11, 1993.
Scott M. Cutlip, “Klans Made Potent Use of ‘Birth of a Nation,’ New York Times, May 12, 1994.
Photo found here.