"The Birth Of A Nation": An Epic Silent Film Sterotyping Black Americans And The Deep South

1366 words - 6 pages

"THE BIRTH OF A NATION": Epic D.W. GriffithThe "Birth of a Nation", by David Wark Griffith, is a 1915 silentfilm based on the book The Clansman, written by Thomas Dixon. Accordingto the liner notes included with this video re-release, Griffith hasbeen given the title of "The Father of Hollywood" with "Birth" being oneof his most classic films. He makes use of many accomplished actors and actresses of his time including: Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Henry B.Walthall, Miriam Cooper, Robert Harron, Wallace Reid, Joseph Henabery, Don Crisp, Erich von Stroheim and Raoul Walsh.It is a story about the Civil War and the resulting Reconstruction era in nineteenth century United States history. The first ...view middle of the document...

The film uses threats of rape and depictions of sexuality to illustrate racial politics and the pastoral idealism of Griffith's portrayal of ante-bellum plantation life. It is obvious that even in the making of this film African-Americans were viewed so separate that white actors were used to play African-Americans when their characters came into close contact with white actresses.The movie displays a contrast between ante-bellum and post-bellum African-American behavior as turning from faithful to renegade due to their new found freedom, a freedom the whites in the South lost. The Southerner way of agricultural life "required" slaves to build their empire in the same vane that much of civilization had done in the past.Besides the battle action some memorable and scenes include,Lillian Gish emerging from a hospital visit where a sentry, gaping in ecstasy, sighs a sigh of devotion and a title proclaiming "War's Peace" is followed by a close-up of a young dead soldier. Another is a classic Black stereotype in one of the Reconstruction scenes where black members of Congress are portrayed as arrogant, lustful, and drinking heavily. They are depicted going about the business of the country coarsely reclining in their congressional chairs, with bare feet propped upon their desks. The final scenes where the Ku Klux Klan is depicted as heroiccharging to the farm house to rescue the 'good white folk' from the Black Union soldiers during the Reconstruction is especially memorable in representing the ethnic alienation and the implication for segregation that Griffith wanted to establish. A pro African-American North using former slaves to "threaten" already demoralized and property stricken White Southerners certainly exposes contrasting ideologies in attempting to incite pity for those "poor Southerners".The actual fighting for separation of the southern states attempting to form a new nation, as the Civil War had been, is depicted by Griffith through his staged view of the "dangers" of racial mixture and the need for separation of "race". This idea still lives on in our society especially in many southern states where the legacy of the Civil War blatantly lingers. (I am made abundantly aware of this when I visit my two children living in rural Mississippi). It seems that this is the idea Griffith uses - to correlate the separation of the North and South with that of White and African-American."Birth of a Nation" was produced only fifty five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery and fifty two years after the Fourteenth Amendment provided for "equal protection under the law." But it was not until the Civil Rights Act of 1968 that gave African-Americans their fullest rights under federal protection. From the earliest efforts by Southern Democrats (Solid South)during Reconstruction through the Jim Crow...

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