The Birth of a Nation

Daniel Bernardi and Michelle J. Martinez

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
The Birth of a Nation

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Released fifty years after the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, D. W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation (1915) simultaneously revolutionized narrative film and sparked an international debate about race relations in the United States. Because of the film’s economic success, narrative and technical innovations, glorification of the Ku Klux Klan, and negative depictions of African Americans, it has remained the subject of both scholarly and cultural debate. Beginning with immediate responses both praising the film, as President Woodrow Wilson so famously did, and condemning the film, as groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) did, Griffith’s three-hour epic has remained a focus of critical scrutiny. Many of Griffith’s contemporaries applauded the film’s advances and called on the public to overlook its racist content or chalked it up to Griffith’s generation and his “southernness.” Others study this polemic and its impact on American culture. Due to the controversy, scholars have approached this film through many academic disciplines, including film and media studies, history and historiography, American studies, and political science. Whether from the perspective of its portrayals of whiteness as divine or its demonization of blackness, film scholars have examined its textual significance within critical race studies. A century after the initial release of the film, academics and critics continue to publish reviews of the film as a document of social history, a case study in reception, and a work of art.

Article.  5603 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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