Birth of a Nation
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.
Here's a great hub to read for those wanting to know more about the history of film making
- Russian Cinema: 1918-1920 the Editing Revolution
The silent era of Russian cinema was one of the most vibrant. Not only did they succeed through lack of funds and equipment, they found a new way to study film. Learn about the Kuleshov effect and how it influences film today.