Dr. Gregory Shealy, professor of history, selected this film for inclusion in The Whole Staircase Film Series. Upon selecting this film, Dr. Shealy said, "D.W. Griffith’s Birth of A Nation (1915) revolutionized the nature of cinema. Its cinematography led Mary Pickford to state that it was “the first picture that really made people take the motion picture industry seriously.” Until Gone With the Wind, it remained the most commercially successful film of all time.
In addition to revolutionizing the use of the camera, it became a cultural phenomena that found widespread acceptance in American society. Woodrow Wilson screened it in the White House, the Los Angeles Times called it “The greatest picture ever made and the greatest drama ever filmed,” and audiences flocked to see it dressed in Klansmen robes. It contains a deeply racist message. It has been given credit with reviving the Ku Klux Klan and solidifying the Lost Cause Myth.
Watching the second half of this silent film, this screening will discuss the ways in which film led to the marginalization of African Americans. This film is a masterpiece of evil and the discussion before and after the film will seek to uncover the ways in which this film reflected and informed the deeply troubled relationship between African Americans and Hollywood."
Dr. Shealy earned his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.
Screening Dates and Locations
Screening presented by Dr. Greg Shealy
Date: April 11, 2019
Location: Orange Park Campus, Building D, room D-14
Start time: 5:30 p.m.
Due to its length, Dr. Shealy will show the second half of the movie (beginning after the film's intermission break).
If you need an interpreter, please email Dr. Will at least 2 days before the event.
Film Information: Birth of a Nation
"A profoundly influential and controversial film, this is the epic story of two families, one northern and one southern, during and after the Civil War. D. W. Griffith's masterful direction combines brilliant battle scenes and tender romance with a vicious portrayal of African-Americans. It energized the NAACP and also inspired African-Americans to move into filmmaking as a way to offer alternative images and stories." - distributor's synopsis
Full running time: 205 mins
This film was released in 1915 and is not rated.
Licensed through Kanopy
Resources for Further Exploration - The Birth of a Nation
Books and eBooks at the SJR State Library
Books may be checked out by community patrons as well as SJR State students faculty and staff. If a title is located at another campus, the book may be sent to another campus upon request.
Please note: eBooks are only accessible to currently registered SJR State students, faculty, and staff via MySJRstate due to licensing restrictions.
"In this deeply researched and vividly written volume, Melvyn Stokes illuminates the origins, production, reception and continuing history of this ground-breaking, aesthetically brilliant, and yet highly controversial movie. By going back to the original archives, particularly the NAACP and D. W. Griffith Papers, Stokes explodes many of the myths surrounding The Birth of a Nation (1915). Yet the story that remains is fascinating: the longest American film of its time, Griffith's film incorporated many new features, including the first full musical score compiled for an American film. It was distributed and advertised by pioneering methods that would quickly become standard. Through the high prices charged for admission and the fact that it was shown, at first, only in "live" theaters with orchestral accompaniment, Birth played a major role in reconfiguring the American movie audience by attracting more middle-class patrons. But if the film was a milestone in the history of cinema, it was also undeniably racist. Stokes shows that the darker side of this classic movie has its origins in the racist ideas of Thomas Dixon, Jr. and Griffith's own Kentuckian background and earlier film career. The book reveals how, as the years went by, the campaign against the film became increasingly successful. In the 1920s, for example, the NAACP exploited the fact that the new Ku Klux Klan, which used Griffith's film as a recruiting and retention tool, was not just anti-black, but also anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish, as a way to mobilize new allies in opposition to the film. This crisply written book sheds light on both the film's racism and the aesthetic brilliance of Griffith's filmmaking. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the cinema." - publisher's marketing
" The Ku Klux Klan was reestablished in Atlanta in 1915, barely a week before the Atlanta premiere of The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith's paean to the original Klan. While this link between Griffith's film and the Klan has been widely acknowledged, Tom Rice explores the little-known relationship between the Klan's success and its use of film and media in the interwar years when the image, function, and moral rectitude of the Klan was contested on the national stage. By examining rich archival materials including a series of films produced by the Klan and a wealth of documents, newspaper clippings, and manuals, Rice uncovers the fraught history of the Klan as a local force that manipulated the American film industry to extend its reach across the country. White Robes, Silver Screens highlights the ways in which the Klan used, produced, and protested against film in order to recruit members, generate publicity, and define its role within American society." - publisher's marketing
" Set against the backdrop of the black struggle in society, Slow Fade to Black is the definitive history of African-American accomplishment in film--both before and behind the camera--from the earliest movies through World War II. As he records the changing attitudes toward African-Americans both in Hollywood and the nation at large, Cripps explores the growth of discrimination as filmmakers became more and more intrigued with myths of the Old South: the "lost cause" aspect; of the Civil War, the stately mansions and gracious ladies of the antebellum South, the "happy" slaves singing in the fields. Cripps shows how these characterizations culminated in the blatantly racist attitudes of Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, and how this film inspired the N.A.A.C.P. to campaign vigorously--and successfully--for change. While the period of the 1920s to 1940s was one replete with Hollywood stereotypes (blacks most often appeared as domestics or "natives," or were portrayed in shiftless, cowardly "Stepin Fetchit" roles), there was also an attempt at independent black production--on the whole unsuccessful. But with the coming of World War II, increasing pressures for a wider use of blacks in films, and calls for more equitable treatment, African-Americans did begin to receive more sympathetic roles, such as that of Sam, the piano player in the 1942 classic Casablanca.; A lively, thorough history of African-Americans in the movies, Slow Fade to Black is also a perceptive social commentary on evolving racial attitudes in this country during the first four decades of the twentieth century." - publisher's marketing
Call Number: Available at each campus library: PN1995.9.N4 F36 2015
Publication Date: 2015-06-30
"Fain examines the dehumanizing depictions of black males in the movies since 1910, analyzing images that were once imposed on black men and are now appropriated and manipulated by them. She discusses the social, historical, and literary evolution of African American male roles in the cinema, and analyzes the various black images presented each decade from blackface, Sambo, and Mandingo stereotypes to archetypal figures such as God, superheroes, and the president." - publisher's marketing
"Black Male Frames charts the development and shifting popularity of two stereotypes of black masculinity in popular American film: "the shaman" or "the scoundrel." Starting with colonial times, Williams identifies the origins of these roles in an America where black men were forced either to defy or to defer to their white masters. These figures recur in the stories America tells about its black men, from the fictional Jim Crow and Zip Coon to historical figures such as Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Williams argues that these two extremes persist today in modern Hollywood, where actors such as Sam Lucas, Paul Robeson, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman, among others, must cope with and work around such limited options. Williams situates these actors’ performances of one or the other stereotype within each man’s personal history and within the country’s historical moment, ultimately to argue that these men are rewarded for their portrayal of the stereotypes most needed to put America’s ongoing racial anxieties at ease. Reinvigorating the discussion that began with Donald Bogle’s seminal work, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks, Black Male Frames illuminates the ways in which individuals and the media respond to the changing racial politics in America." - publisher's marketing
"In Cara Caddoo's perspective-changing study, African Americans emerge as pioneers of cinema from the 1890s to 1920s. But as it gained popularity, black cinema also became controversial. Black leaders demanded self-representation and an end to cinematic mischaracterizations which, they charged, violated the civil rights of African Americans." - catalog description
"From Al Jolson in blackface to Song of the South, there is a long history of racism in Hollywood film. Yet as early as the 1930s, movie studios carefully vetted their releases, removing racially offensive language like the “N-word.” This censorship did not stem from purely humanitarian concerns, but rather from worries about boycotts from civil rights groups and loss of revenue from African American filmgoers.
Cinema Civil Rights presents the untold history of how Black audiences, activists, and lobbyists influenced the representation of race in Hollywood in the decades before the 1960s civil rights era. Employing a nuanced analysis of power, Ellen C. Scott reveals how these representations were shaped by a complex set of negotiations between various individuals and organizations. Rather than simply recounting the perspective of film studios, she calls our attention to a variety of other influential institutions, from protest groups to state censorship boards.
Scott demonstrates not only how civil rights debates helped shaped the movies, but also how the movies themselves provided a vital public forum for addressing taboo subjects like interracial sexuality, segregation, and lynching. Emotionally gripping, theoretically sophisticated, and meticulously researched, Cinema Civil Rights presents us with an in-depth look at the film industry’s role in both articulating and censoring the national conversation on race." - publisher's marketing
"Cedric J. Robinson offers a new understanding of race in America through his analysis of theater and film of the early twentieth century. He argues that economic, political, and cultural forces present in the eras of silent film and the early "talkies" firmly entrenched limited representations of African Americans.
Robinson grounds his study in contexts that illuminate the parallel growth of racial beliefs and capitalism, beginning with Shakespearean England and the development of international trade. He demonstrates how the needs of American commerce determined the construction of successive racial regimes that were publicized in the theater and in motion pictures, particularly through plantation and jungle films. In addition to providing new depth and complexity to the history of black representation, Robinson examines black resistance to these practices. Whereas D. W. Griffith appropriated black minstrelsy and romanticized a national myth of origins, Robinson argues that Oscar Micheaux transcended uplift films to create explicitly political critiques of the American national myth. Robinson's analysis marks a new way of approaching the intellectual, political, and media racism present in the beginnings of American narrative cinema." - publisher's marketing
Celebration • Education • Reflection
H.R.1242/Public Law 115-102, the 400 Years of African American History Commission Act, establishes 2019 as a year of "commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies, at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619." The commemoration is intended “to recognize and highlight the resilience and contributions of African-Americans since 1619; to acknowledge the impact that slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination had on the United States; and to educate the public about the arrival of Africans in the United States; and the contributions of African-Americans to the United States.” In recognition of this commemoration and with the Act serving as a guide, the SJR State Library has organized a year-long series of events that will provide educational experiences and resources to students and the community that celebrate the history and culture of African Americans.
Site created and maintained by Dr. Christina Will. Pages will be added and maintained throughout 2019.
Maintenance will cease at the end of 2019 but this site will remain accessible.