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Birth of a Nation

Updated on January 3, 2012

The Most Controversial Film I've Ever Seen

"The Birth of a Nation" is perhaps one of the most controversial films that I've seen. The film is directed by legendary director D.W. Griffith in which he depicts the "Civil War" and the "Reconstruction era" in America through the eyes of two families, the Stonemans, from the North, and the Camerons, from the South. When the Civil War happens between the Union and the Confederacy, the two families side with their perspected regions. Stonemans side with the Union while the Camerons side with the Confederacy. After the war, Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall) is disheartened when he sees the South get overturn and ruled by the former slaves and carpetbaggers, so he organizes the several Southerners to form the Ku Klux Klan to help liberate the South. As for Ben's sister, Flora (Mae Marsh), she commits suicide trying to get away from the lustful advances of a renegade slave, Gus (Walter Long), so the Klan declares war on the Northern controlled government to inevitably restore order to the South. I know many people will be offended by this film's obvious racist point of view. Being a minority myself (one quarter Hispanic, one quarter Native American, and half Chinese), I can understand, so please don't judge me by my praisal for this review because I'm not a white supremacist. However, what most people need to understand is that this film was made in 1915. Back then racism was a lot more acceptable, so this film merely reflects the attitude and fears that many white Americans felt at that time period. I know this film is mostly historically inaccurate when it depicts the Civil War and the "Reconstruction era." However, I think Griffith does a great job describing many of the fears that White America had at that time period. The cinematography was revolutionary in itself, thus paving the way for modern cinema to be born in the United States. I know this film will offend many viewers but if it weren't for this film being one of the first blockbusters in Hollywood, then many of today's cinema wouldn't exist.

Whether your a racist or not, this film is a landmark in American cinematic history. In the film, Griffith portrays many African Americans as neanderthals that only seek violence and to rape white women while the ones that side with the Klan are dubbed, "the faithful ones." Klans men are pretty much displayed as heroes in this movie. Heck, even when the film shows the "Civil War", it has Ben giving a Northern soldier some water in the middle of a battle, and he's celebrated as a hero on both sides for doing so. From watching this film, it's obvious that Griffith was a Southerner and a racist, but almost every white person in America was a racist back then. I remember when I first saw this film, I was offended by its' content but after thinking about it, I realized that this film wasn't made to be politically correct. Rather, it was made to depict the fears of South during and after the "Civil War." I know many people probably felt the same way, and it's understandebly so. However, looking at this film objectively, makes you realize how deep fears were about the aftermath of the "Civil War." How many white Southerners felt slaves would try to turn on their former masters, and influence their politics after gaining voting rights.

In a more recent documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," had somewhat of a biased point of view in history, but it was able to tell some historical facts that played to how the rest of America felt. Sure many Republicans didn't like it, but it was made based off several suspicious allegations. Many people may or may not agree with it, but it plays true to how society is at times in regards to the "War on Terrorism" and how most of young America felt about George W. Bush. Who's to say that we may or may not find evidence to disprove those allegations later in history. However, I'm not here to defend Bush, but I'm trying to make a point. Same can be said with "Birth of a Nation", you might not agree with it, but it just goes over how America at that time frame felt about the current events that went on.

As for the revolutionary cinematography, it was just genius. D.W. constant continuity editing, camera angles, and focus was used rather well considering the technological advances of the time frame. Indeed, this film and many other helped create several techniques that help shape todays modern cinema. As for the music, it seemed to fit the theme of the movie quite well. Allowing the viewer to feel the actor's emotions on screen.

"The Birth of a Nation" is one of the most controversial films I've seen. However, because of its' obvious take on a dark time in American history, it's bound to raise all sorts of controversy. However, I hope anyone who watches this film tries to keep an open mind, and not allow this film's prejudice to dictate how they feel about this film. Rather, to just see it as a piece of cinematic history, and a point of view that this is just how society was back then. Thus, allowing all us minorities to be thankful that even though racism still exists today, to be appreciative about how far we've come in terms of civil rights. It may not be perfect, but at least we've come further than where we were in 1915.


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    • Stevennix2001 profile imageAUTHOR

      Steven Escareno 

      6 years ago

      well you do bring up a lot of valid points, and I'll definitely be sure to check out "Intolerance" the first chance I get based on both vmartinezwilson and your recommendation of it. However, I do appreciate you taking the time to share your collective thoughts with us on this movie. :)

    • innersmiff profile image

      James Smith 

      6 years ago from UK

      Can you forgive a film for how influential it is? I think I am able to recognise that it is an influential film, but I would not go as far to say that it is a good film. Plenty of films nowadays represent national prejudices but that does not mean that they are acceptable. The inundation of pro-war films are interesting to study how much we want to win the war on terror, even though we know it's a scam in real life. Even well made film such as The Hurt Locker are guilty of this.

      You made your point well but I think Intolerance is a much better example of Griffith's work, and much more experimental.

    • Stevennix2001 profile imageAUTHOR

      Steven Escareno 

      6 years ago

      Well, you do bring up a lot of valid points. I know when I originally wrote this on yahoo a while back, a part of me was scared that people would criticize me for praising this film; hence why I kind of felt it was important to list my true ethnicity. lol. However, in hindsight though, I could't agree with you more in regards to everything you just said, as you do bring up a lot valid points.

      Anyway, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us though, and thanks for stopping by to read my review of this film. :)

    • vmartinezwilson profile image

      Vanessa Martinez Wilson 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, WA

      This movie is a landmark in so many ways. It was the first blockbuster feature film, it was the first to use montage narrative in a feature film and it was the first to take it's director down.

      What I found interesting was Griffith's follow up Intolerance, which did OK during the time period, but most thought it was overwrought and trodding. The irony was that the movie Intolerance wasn't about people being intolerant about race, it was about how bad it was for people to be intolerant about Griffith's racism. How dare they? lol

      For being such a monumental film, I found this movie about an hour too long. I wouldn't alter the ending, but the repetition of the two separate sections of society seems over done. But it is what it is and it is more important to see the film as a whole. The same could be said for The Jazz Singer, which was just as bad when it came to depicting racial stereotypes.

      By the way, Stevennix, you should never apoligize for looking at a film and seeing the beauty of what it has to contribute to general, social and film history. Triumph of the Will almost makes me want to do the same, but it is what it is. Beautiful, important historically and filmicly and something that must be studied.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this most historical film, no matter how awful it's plotline may be.

    • Stevennix2001 profile imageAUTHOR

      Steven Escareno 

      7 years ago

      I couldn't agree with you even more, as I think it would be easy for many of us to pretend that racism didn't exist throughout our history. However, as a wise man once said, "those who forget history are often doomed to repeat it." Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we should always live in the past, but I don't think we should turn a blind eye, and pretend something like racism never existed to begin with.

      However, it seems like you and me had almost the exact same opinion of this film, as it's nice to see I'm not the only person who feels this way about this film. Anyways, I appreciate you coming by and sharing your thoughts with us.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      7 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      I saw the film Birth of a Nation at college. What was inevitably raised by the audience was whether the last ten minutes or so of the movie should be cut. I voted no for much the reasons I feel that you would. The ending is part of history and therefore should remain because it says something about the USA at the time of it being made and also something about D. W. Griffith. To remove it would be to white wash, to pretend that there wasn't racism. Better to have racism in the past if it can be used to keep it out of the future. My thoughts at any rate.


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