"THE BIRTH OF A NATION": An Epic Silent Film Sterotyping Black Americans and the Deep South.

Essay by mjustice52A+, April 2002

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"THE BIRTH OF A NATION": Epic D.W. Griffith

The "Birth of a Nation", by David Wark Griffith, is a 1915 silent

film based on the book The Clansman, written by Thomas Dixon. According

to the liner notes included with this video re-release, Griffith has

been given the title of "The Father of Hollywood" with "Birth" being one

of 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 half of the movie concerns itself with the quest of the South's separation from the Union and is full of some well choreographed Civil War battle scenes. The second half depicts Reconstruction from a Southerner's perspective.

This last half of the film leaves the viewer with a sense of the alienation that cultural differences exhibit through dominance for power regardless if that superiority struggle be with a single individual or collectively as a nation.

The "Birth of a Nation" seems a complex film for its time. Several themes run through the film, and it especially shines light on the

development of identity categories such as race, class, gender, and regionalism during the early twentieth century. As I viewed the film, I noted several connections that Griffith makes. He makes differences between African Americans those as "good blacks" (still loyal to their masters) and as "bad blacks" or what Griffith terms "faithful souls" and "renegades" in scene sub-title frames. This sheds light on his construction of race and racial relations: segregation.

Two families, the Stonemans of the North and...