Title: The Birth of a Nation
According to Griffith et al., “the film “The Birth of a Nation” is an American silent epic drama film which Lillian Gish and D. W. Griffith co-produced and directed”(45). This three-hour long film that was presented into two parts where it was intermission separated was released on the 8th February 1915. The film is mainly characterized by the American civil war as well as the reconstruction era over the years that preceded. Also, there is the dramatization of the assassination of the US president Abraham Lincoln by John Booth in the film. Despite the film having succeeded commercially, it was marred by a number of controversies because of portraying the black men as people who are sexually aggressive toward the white women and unintelligent as well as the dramatization of KKK originally as a heroic force. Therefore, Black Americans protested against the film in places like Boston while masses of their white counterparts filled halls in Boston to view the film. This is what led to the spearheading of a campaign to ban the film by NAACP something that failed. These efforts to have the film censored encouraged Griffith to produce another film in the following year referred to as “Intolerance”.
The main legacy of reconstruction as depicted in the film by Griffith according to Dudden and Faye, is when Stoneman and Silas Lynch are seen displaying acts of sycophancy as they went to observe the reconstruction policies firsthand implementation in South Carolina (26). It is during this election that Lynch is elected a lieutenant Governor where the black Americans participate in stuffing ballots while many white Americans are not allowed to vote in the elections. It is seen from the newly elected black American members of the South Carolina legislature behaving badly with one of the leaders seen with his feet on the top of the desk without shoes, taking alcohol and feasting, something that was not common with the blacks.
The reconstruction legacy is also made when Ben is inspired by his observation of the white children pretending to be ghosts so as to scare the black kids and he forms the KKK to fight back. This makes Elsie break up with Ben as a result of her loyalty to her father. Also, the death of Flora after Gus wanted to marry her led to the legalization of mixed marriages something that never existed before. This film comes to an end with the weddings of Margret Cameroon and Phil Stoneman and that of Elsie Stoneman and Ben Cameroon after Elsie was rescued by Ben after falling unconscious.
This view of reconstruction by Griffith contrasts Eric Foner’s assessment of reconstruction as he states openly that reconstruction in America was a change from the traditional social, political and economic systems that were being experienced in the south (54). This is not the issue with Griffith as he looks into the political side and the social one but does not look at the economic bit of the American reconstruction. According to Griffith only the political systems where Blacks were elected and intermarriages that covered the social bit were portrayed in the film.
The first amendment issue that arises from the release of the film by Griffith was the controversy it depicted in its treatment of reconstruction, the American civil war and the treatment of the African Americans who had just been freed from being slaves. The NAACP was seen petitioning authorities many times to stop the showing of the film or the offensive scenes of the film are removed from it. Despite these efforts by NAACP achieving little success, the actions they took resulted in the increase in its picture as well as increasing its membership.
Personally, I think that the film “The Birth of a Nation” should be shown today so as to act as a reminder of the far Americans has come from. The film will help the younger generation learn more about how the black Americans came to get voting rights, the legalization of inter-race marriages as well as know how slavery came to an end in the US. This is because teaching students as well as the young ones about the American civil war, slavery as well as the discrimination of blacks will be easier when they can view a film dated then as compared to reading books alone. Also, the film will be important in showing people how such acts of racism and discrimination made life hard for other beings and will make it hard for them to repeat such acts in the future.
Therefore, despite the film “The Birth of a Nation” receiving a lot of criticism from the NAACP for portraying social acts, it is important to note that the film came along with a lot of praise from people for its artistic and technical innovations as depicted in the film. Also, as noted earlier the film can still act as a reference and lesson to the younger generations against practicing social acts such as racism and slavery in future.
Dudden, Faye E. Fighting Chance: The Struggle Over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America. , 2014. Print.
Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. New York, New York: HarperPerennial, 2014. Print.construction America. , 2014.
Griffith, D.W, Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Thomas Dixon, Reginald Barker, Mack Sennett, Thomas H. Ince, and Cecil B. DeMille. The Birth of a Nation. U.K.: BFI, 2015.