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Lillian Gish Mae Marsh Henry B. Walthall Miriam Cooper Ralph Lewis George Siegmann Walter Long. Music by Joseph Carl Breil Cinematography Billy Bitzer Edited by D. Distributed by Epoch Producing Co. February 8, 1915 1915-02-08. 12 reels 133 193 minutes note 1 2 Country United States Language Silent film English intertitles Budget 100,000 3 Box office 50 100 million 4. The Birth of a Nation is a landmark of film history.

6 7 It was the first 12-reel film ever made and, at three hours, also the longest up to that point. 8 Its plot, part fiction and part history, chronicling the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth and the relationship of two families in the Civil War and Reconstruction eras over the course of several years the pro-Union Northern Stonemans and the pro-Confederacy Southern Camerons was by far the most complex of any movie made up to that date. It was originally shown in two parts separated by another movie innovation, an intermission, and it was the first to have a musical score for an orchestra.

It pioneered close-ups, fade-outs, and a carefully staged battle sequence with hundreds of extras another first made to look like thousands. 9 It came with a 13-page Souvenir Program. 10 It was the first American motion picture to be screened in the White House, viewed there by President Woodrow Wilson. The film was controversial even before its release and has remained so ever since; it has been called the most controversial film ever made in the United States.

11 198 Lincoln is portrayed positively, unusual for a narrative that promotes the Lost Cause ideology. On the other hand, the film portrays African Americans many of whom are played by white actors in blackface as unintelligent and sexually aggressive toward white women. The film presents the Ku Klux Klan KKK as a heroic force necessary to preserve American values and a white supremacist social order.

The screenplay is adapted from the 1905 novel and play The Clansmanby Thomas Dixon Jr. In response to the film s depictions of Black people and Civil War history, African Americans across the nation organized and participated in protests against The Birth of a Nation. In places such as in Boston where thousands of white people viewed the film, Black leaders tried to have it banned on the basis that it inflamed racial tensions and could incite violence.

14 The NAACP spearheaded an unsuccessful campaign to ban the film. 14 Griffith s indignation at efforts to censor or ban the film motivated him to produce Intolerance the following year. In spite of its divisiveness, The Birth of a Nation was a huge commercial success and profoundly influenced both the film industry and American culture. The film has been acknowledged as an inspiration for the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, which took place only a few months after its release.

1 Part 1 Civil War of United States 1. In 1992, the Library of Congress deemed the film culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. 2 Part 2 Reconstruction 2 Cast 3 Production 3. 2 Development 3. 1 1911 version 3. 4 Score 4 Release 4. 1 Theatrical run 4. 2 Change of title 4.

3 Special screenings 4. 1 White House showing 4. 2 Showing in the Raleigh Hotel ballroom 4. 3 Consequences 4. 4 New opening titles on re-release 5 Contemporary reception 5. 1 Press reaction 5. 2 Box office 5. 3 Criticism 5. 4 Audience reaction 5. 5 Sequel and spin-offs 5. 6 Influence 6 Current reception 6. 1 Critical response 6. 2 Accolades 6. 3 Historical portrayal 6. 4 Academic assessment 7 Legacy 7. 1 Film innovations 7.

3 In popular culture 7. 2 Home media and restorations 7. 4 Negative reaction 8 See also 9 Notes 10 References 11 Bibliography 12 Further reading 13 External links. The film consists of two parts of similar length. The first part closes with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, after which there is an intermission. At the New York premiere, Dixon spoke on stage between the parts, reminding the audience that the dramatic version of The Clansman appeared in that venue nine years previously.

Dixon also observed that he would have allowed none but the son of a Confederate soldier to direct the film version of The Clansman. Part 1 Civil War of United States Edit. One is the Northern Stonemans abolitionist U. The film follows two juxtaposed families. Representative Austin Stoneman based on the Reconstruction-era Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania19 20 his daughter, and two sons. The other is the Southern Camerons Dr. Phil, the elder Stoneman son, falls in love with Margaret Cameron, during the brothers visit to the Cameron estate in South Carolina, representing the Old South.

Meanwhile, young Ben Cameron modeled after Leroy McAfee 21 idolizes a picture of Elsie Stoneman. When the Civil War arrives, the young men of both families enlist in their respective armies. The younger Stoneman and two of the Cameron brothers are killed in combat. Cameron, his wife, their three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the Cameron women are rescued by Confederate soldiers who rout a Black militia after an attack on the Cameron home.

Ben Cameron leads a heroic final charge at the Siege of Petersburg, earning the nickname of the Little Colonelbut he is also wounded and captured. During his stay at the hospital, he is told that he will be hanged. He is then taken to a Union military hospital in Washington, D. Also at the hospital, he meets Elsie Stoneman, whose picture he has been carrying; she is working there as a nurse.

Elsie takes Cameron s mother, who had traveled to Washington to tend her son, to see Abraham Lincoln, and Mrs. Cameron persuades the President to pardon Ben. When Lincoln is assassinated at Ford s Theatre, his conciliatory postwar policy expires with him. Part 2 Reconstruction Edit. In the wake of the president s death, Austin Stoneman and other Radical Republicans are determined to punish the South, employing harsh measures that Griffith depicts as having been typical of the Reconstruction Era.

Stoneman and his protégé Silas Lynch, a psychopathic mulatto modeled after Alonzo J. Ransier and Richard Howell Gleaves23 24 head to South Carolina to observe the implementation of Reconstruction policies firsthand. During the election, in which Lynch is elected lieutenant governor, Blacks are observed stuffing the ballot boxes, while many whites are denied the vote.

The newly elected, mostly Black members of the South Carolina legislature are shown at their desks displaying extremely racist stereotypical behavior, such as one member taking off his shoes and putting his feet up on his desk, and others drinking liquor and feasting on fried chicken. Meanwhile, inspired by observing white children pretending to be ghosts to scare Black children, Ben fights back by forming the Ku Klux Klan.

As a result, Elsie, out of loyalty to her father, breaks off her relationship with Ben. Later, Flora Cameron goes off alone into the woods to fetch water and is followed by Gus, a freedman and soldier who is now a captain. He confronts Flora and tells her that he desires to get married. Frightened, she flees into the forest, pursued by Gus. Trapped on a precipice, Flora warns Gus she will jump if he comes any closer. When he does, she leaps to her death.

Having run through the forest looking for her, Ben has seen her jump; he holds her as she dies, then carries her body back to the Cameron home. The Birth of a Nationoriginally called The Clansman5 is a 1915 American silent epic drama film directed by D. In response, the Klan hunts down Gus, tries him, finds him guilty, and lynches him.

Lynch then orders a crackdown on the Klan after discovering Gus s murder. He also secures the passing of legislation allowing mixed-race marriages. Cameron is arrested for possessing Ben s Klan regalia, now considered a capital crime. Together with Margaret Cameron, they flee. He is rescued by Phil Stoneman and a few of his Black servants. When their wagon breaks down, they make their way through the woods to a small hut that is home to two sympathetic former Union soldiers who agree to hide them.

An intertitle states, The former enemies of North and South are united again in common defense of their Aryan birthright. Congressman Stoneman leaves to avoid being connected with Lt. Lynch s crackdown. Elsie, learning of Dr. Cameron s arrest, goes to Lynch to plead for his release. Lynch, who had been lusting after Elsie, tries to force her to marry him, which causes her to faint.

Stoneman returns, causing Elsie to be placed in another room. At first Stoneman is happy when Lynch tells him he wants to marry a white woman, but he is then angered when Lynch tells him that it is Stoneman s daughter. Undercover Klansman spies go to get help when they discover Elsie s plight after she breaks a window and cries out for help. Elsie falls unconscious again and revives while gagged and being bound. The Klan gathered together, with Ben leading them, ride in to gain control of the town.

When news about Elsie reaches Ben, he and others go to her rescue. Elsie frees her mouth and screams for help. Lynch is captured. Victorious, the Klansmen celebrate in the streets. Meanwhile, Lynch s militia surrounds and attacks the hut where the Camerons are hiding. The Klansmen, with Ben at their head, race in to save them just in time. The next election day, Blacks find a line of mounted and armed Klansmen just outside their homes and are intimidated into not voting.

The film concludes with a double wedding as Margaret Cameron marries Phil Stoneman and Elsie Stoneman marries Ben Cameron. The masses are shown oppressed by a giant warlike figure who gradually fades away. The scene shifts to another group finding peace under the image of Jesus Christ. The penultimate title is Dare we dream of a golden day when the bestial War shall rule no more. But instead the gentle Prince in the Hall of Brotherly Love in the City of Peace. Lillian Gish as Elsie Stoneman Mae Marsh as Flora Cameron, the pet sister Henry B.

Walthall as Colonel Benjamin Cameron The Little Colonel Miriam Cooper as Margaret Cameron, elder sister Mary Alden as Lydia Brown, Stoneman s housekeeper Ralph Lewis as Austin Stoneman, Leader of the House George Siegmann as Silas Lynch Walter Long as Gus, the renegade Wallace Reid as Jeff, the blacksmith Joseph Henabery as Abraham Lincoln Elmer Clifton as Phil Stoneman, elder son Robert Harron as Tod Stoneman Josephine Crowell as Mrs.

Cameron Spottiswoode Aitken as Dr. Cameron George Beranger as Wade Cameron, second son Maxfield Stanley as Duke Cameron, youngest son Jennie Lee as Mammy, the faithful servant Donald Crisp as General Ulysses S. Grant Howard Gaye as General Robert E. Harry Braham as Cameron s faithful servant Edmund Burns as Klansman David Butler as Union soldier Confederate soldier William Freeman as Jake, a mooning sentry at Federal hospital Sam De Grasse as Senator Charles Sumner Olga Grey as Laura Keene Russell Hicks Elmo Lincoln as ginmill owner slave auctioneer Eugene Pallette as Union soldier Harry Braham as Jake Nelse Charles Stevens as volunteer Madame Sul-Te-Wan as woman with gypsy shawl Raoul Walsh as John Wilkes Booth Lenore Cooper as Elsie s maid Violet Wilkey as young Flora Tom Wilson as Stoneman s servant Donna Montran as belles of 1861 Alberta Lee as Mrs.

Mary Todd Lincoln Allan Sears as Klansmen Vester Pegg Alma Rubens Mary Wynn Jules White Monte Blue Gibson Gowland Fred Burns Charles King. 1911 version Edit. There was an uncompleted, now lost, 1911 version, titled The Clansman. It used Kinemacolor and a new sound process; one reason for this version s failure is the unwillingness of theater owners to purchase the equipment to show it. The director was William F.

Haddock, and the producer was George Brennan. Some scenes were filmed on the porches and lawns of Homewood Plantation, in Natchez, Mississippi. 26 One and a half reels were completed. Kinemacolor received a settlement from the producers of Birth when they proved that they had an earlier right to film the work. The footage was shown to the trade in an attempt to arouse interest. Early movie critic Frank E.

Woods attended; Griffith always credited Woods with bringing The Clansman to his attention. Development Edit. After the failure of the Kinemacolor project, in which Dixon was willing to invest his own money, 27 330 he began visiting other studios to see if they were interested. 28 page needed In late 1913, Dixon met the film producer Harry Aitken, who was interested in making a film out of The Clansman ; through Aitken, Dixon met Griffith. 28 page needed Like Dixon, Griffith was a Southerner, a fact that Dixon points out; 29 295 Griffith s father served as a colonel in the Confederate States Army and, like Dixon, viewed Reconstruction negatively.

Griffith believed that a passage from The Clansman where Klansmen ride to the rescue of persecuted white Southerners could be adapted into a great cinematic sequence. 30 Griffith first announced his intent to adapt Dixon s play to Gish and Walthall after filming Home Sweet Home in 1914. Birth of a Nation follows The Clansman the play nearly scene by scene. 32 According to Karen Crowe, t here is not a single event, word, character, or circumstance taken from The Leopard s Spots. 31 xvii While some sources also credit The Leopard s Spots as source material, Russell Merritt attributes this to the original 1915 playbills and program for Birth which, eager to flaunt the film s literary pedigree, cited both The Clansman and The Leopard s Spots as sources.

Any likenesses between the film and The Leopard s Spots occur because some similar scenes, circumstances, and characters appear in both books. 31 xvii xviii. Griffith agreed to pay Thomas Dixon 10,000 equivalent to 255,249 in 2019 for the rights to his play The Clansman. Since he ran out of money and could afford only 2,500 of the original option, Griffith offered Dixon 25 percent interest in the picture. Dixon reluctantly agreed, and the unprecedented success of the film made him rich.

Dixon s proceeds were the largest sum any author had received up to 2007 for a motion picture story and amounted to several million dollars. 33 The American historian John Hope Franklin suggested that many aspects of the script for The Birth of a Nation appeared to reflect Dixon iqoption for mac concerns more than Griffith s, as Dixon had an obsession in his novels of iqoption for mac in loving detail the lynchings of Black men, which did not reflect Griffith s interests.

Filming Edit. Griffith began filming on July 4, 1914 34 and was finished by October 1914. 28 421 Some filming took place in Big Bear Lake, California. Griffith took over the Hollywood studio of Kinemacolor. West Point engineers provided technical advice on the American Civil War battle scenes, providing Griffith with the artillery used in the film.

Much of the filming was done on the Griffith Ranch in San Fernando Valley, with the Petersburg scenes being shot at what is today Forest Lawn Memorial Park and other scenes being shot in Whittier and Ojai Valley. Many of the African Americans in the film were portrayed by white actors in blackface. 36 37 The film s war scenes were influenced after Robert Underwood Johnson s book Battles and Leaders of the Civil WarHarper s Pictorial History of the Civil WarThe Soldier in Our Civil Warand Mathew Brady s photography.

Griffith initially claimed this was deliberate, stating on careful weighing of every detail concerned, the decision was to have no black blood among the principals; it was only in the legislative scene that Negroes were used, and then only as extra people. However Black extras who had been housed in segregated quarters, including Griffith s acquaintance and frequent collaborator Madame Sul-Te-Wan, can be seen in many other shots of the film.

Griffith s budget started at US 40,000 33 equivalent to 1,010,000 in 2019 but rose to over 100,000 3 equivalent to 2,530,000 in 2019. By the time he finished filming, Griffith shot approximately 150,000 feet of footage or about 36 hours worth of filmwhich he edited down to 13,000 feet just over 3 hours. 34 The film was edited after early screenings in reaction to audience reception, and existing prints of the film are missing footage from the standard version of the film.

Evidence exists that the film originally included scenes of white slave traders seizing Blacks from West Africa and detaining them aboard a slave ship, Southern congressmen in the House of Representatives, Northerners reacting to the results of the 1860 presidential election, the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, a Union League meeting, depictions of martial law in South Carolina, and a battle sequence.

In addition, several scenes were cut at the insistence of New York Mayor John Purroy Mitchel due to their highly racist content before its release in New York City, including a female abolitionist activist recoiling from the body odor of a Black boy, Black men seizing white women on the streets of Piedmont, and deportations of Blacks with the title Lincoln s Solution. It was also long rumored, including by Griffith s biographer Seymour Stern, that the original film included a rape scene between Gus and Flora before her suicide, but in 1974 the cinematographer Karl Brown denied that such a scene had been filmed.

Although The Birth of a Nation is commonly regarded as a landmark for its dramatic and visual innovations, its use of music was arguably no less revolutionary. 38 Though film was still silent at the time, it was common practice to distribute musical cue sheets, or less commonly, full scores usually for organ or piano accompaniment along with each print of a film.

For The Birth of a Nationcomposer Joseph Carl Breil created a three-hour-long musical score that combined all three types of music in use at the time adaptations of existing works by classical composers, new arrangements of well-known melodies, and original composed music. 38 Though it had been specifically composed for the film, Breil s score was not used for the Los Angeles première of the film at Clune s Auditorium; rather, a score compiled by Carli Elinor was performed in its stead, and this score was used exclusively in West Coast showings.

Breil s score was not used until the film debuted in New York at the Liberty Theatre but it was the score featured in all showings save those on the West Coast. Outside of original compositions, Breil adapted classical music for use in the film, including passages from Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber, Leichte Kavallerie by Franz von Suppé, Symphony No. 6 by Ludwig van Beethoven, and Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner, the latter used as a leitmotif during the ride of the KKK.

38 Breil also arranged several traditional and popular tunes that would have been recognizable to audiences at the time, including many Southern melodies; among these songs were Maryland, My MarylandDixie42 Old Folks at HomeThe Star-Spangled BannerAmerica the BeautifulThe Battle Hymn of the RepublicAuld Lang Syneand Where Did You Get That Hat. He has also cited Breil s use of music by Richard Wagner as influential on subsequent Hollywood films, including Star Wars 1977 and Apocalypse Now 1979.

In his original compositions for the film, Breil wrote numerous leitmotifs to accompany the appearance of specific characters. The principal love theme that was created for the romance between Elsie Stoneman and Ben Cameron was published as Iqoption for mac Perfect Song and is regarded as the first marketed theme song from a film; it was later used as the theme song for the popular radio and television sitcom Amos n Andy.

Theatrical run Edit. The first public showing of the film, then called The Clansmanwas on January 1 and 2, 1915, at the Loring Opera House in Riverside, California. 45 The second night, it was sold out and people were turned away. 38 43 DJ Spooky has called Breil s score, with its mix of Dixieland songs, classical music and vernacular heartland music an early, pivotal accomplishment in remix culture. 46 It was shown on February 8, 1915, to an audience of 3,000 persons at Clune s Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles.

The film s backers understood that the film needed a massive publicity campaign if they were to cover the immense cost of producing it. A major part of this campaign was the release of the film in a roadshow theatrical release. This allowed Griffith to charge premium prices for tickets, sell souvenirs, and build excitement around the film before giving it a wide release.

For several months, Griffith s team traveled to various cities to show the film for one or two nights before moving on. Iqoption for mac strategy was immensely successful. Change of title Edit. The title was changed to The Birth of a Nation before the March 2 New York opening. 27 329 However, Dixon copyrighted the title The Birth of a Nation in 1905, 27 329 and it was used in the press as early as January 2, 1915, 48 49 while it was still referred to as The Clansman in October.

Special screenings Edit. White House showing Edit. Birth of a Nation was the first movie shown in the White House, in the East Room, on February 18, 1915. 51 An earlier movie, the Italian Cabiria 1914was shown on the lawn. It was attended by President Woodrow Wilson, members of his family, and members of his Cabinet. 52 Both Dixon and Griffith were present.

53 126 As put by Dixon, not an impartial source, it repeated the triumph of the first showing. There is dispute about Wilson s attitude toward the movie. A newspaper reported that he received many letters protesting against his alleged action in Indorsing the pictures sicincluding a letter from Massachusetts Congressman Thomas Chandler Thacher. 52 The showing of the movie had caused several near-riots.

52 When Assistant Attorney General William H. Walters, a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, called at the White House to add their protestsPresident Wilson s private secretary, Joseph Tumulty, showed them a letter he had written to Thacher on Wilson s behalf. According to the letter, Wilson had been entirely unaware of the character of the play movie before it was presented and has at no time expressed his approbation of it.

Its exhibition at the White House was a courtesy extended to an old acquaintance. 52 Dixon, in his autobiography, quotes Wilson as saying, when Dixon proposed showing the movie at the White House, that I am pleased to be able to do this little thing for you, because a long time ago you took a day out of your busy life to do something for me.

29 298 What Dixon had done for Wilson was to suggest him for an honorary degree, which Wilson received, from Dixon s alma materWake Forest College. Dixon had been a fellow graduate student in history with Wilson at Johns Hopkins University and, in 1913, dedicated his historical novel about Lincoln, The Southernerto our first Southern-born president since Lincoln, my friend and collegemate Woodrow Wilson.

The evidence that Wilson knew the character of the play in advance of seeing it is circumstantial but very strong Given Dixon s career and the notoriety attached to the play The Clansmanit is not unreasonable to assume that Wilson must have had some idea of at least the general tenor of the film. 54 513 The movie was based on a best-selling novel and was preceded by a stage version play which was received with protests in several cities in some cities it was prohibited and received a great deal of news coverage.

Wilson issued no protest when the Evening Starat that time Washington s newspaper of recordreported in advance of the showing, in language suggesting a press release from Dixon and Griffiths, that Dixon was a schoolmate of President Wilson and is an intimate friendand that Wilson s interest in it is due to the great lesson of peace it teaches. 51 Wilson, and only Wilson, is quoted by name in the movie for his observations on American history, and the title of Wilson s book History of the American People is mentioned as well.

54 518 519 The three title cards with quotations from Wilson s book read. Adventurers swarmed out of the North, as much the enemies of one race as of the other, to cozen, beguile and use the negroes. Ellipsis in the original. In the villages the negroes were the office holders, men who knew none of the uses of authority, except its insolences. The policy of the congressional leaders wrought a veritable overthrow of civilization in the South. in their determination to put the white South under the heel of the black South.

Ellipses and underscore in the original. The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation. until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the southern country. In the same book, Wilson has harsh words about the abyss between the original goals of the Klan and what it evolved into.

55 56 Dixon has been accused of misquoting Wilson. In 1937 a popular magazine reported that Wilson said of the film, It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true. 57 Wilson over the years had several times used the metaphor of illuminating history as if by lightning and he may well have said it at the time. The accuracy of his saying it was terribly true is disputed by historians; there is no contemporary documentation of the remark.

54 521 58 Vachel Lindsay, a popular poet of the time, is known to have referred to the film as art by lightning flash. Showing in the Raleigh Hotel ballroom Edit. The next day, February 19, 1915, Griffith and Dixon held a showing of the film in the Raleigh Hotel ballroom, which they had hired for the occasion. Early that morning, Dixon called on a North Carolina friend, the white-supremacist Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy.

Daniels set up a meeting that morning for Dixon with Edward Douglass White, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Initially Justice White was not interested in seeing the film, but when Dixon told him it was the true story of Reconstruction and the Klan s role in saving the SouthWhite, recalling his youth in Louisiana, jumped to attention and said I was a member of the Klan, sir. 60 171 172 With White agreeing to see the film, the rest of the Supreme Court followed.

In addition to the entire Supreme Court, in the audience were many members of Congress and members of the diplomatic corps61 62 the Secretary of the Navy, 38 members of the Senate, and about 50 members of the House of Representatives. Consequences Edit. The audience of 600 cheered and applauded throughout. In Griffith s words, the showings to the president and the entire Supreme Court conferred an honor upon Birth of a Nation. 54 page needed Dixon and Griffith used this commercially.

The following day, Griffith and Dixon transported the film to New York City for review by the National Board of Censorship. They presented the film as endorsed by the President and the cream of Washington society. The Board approved the film by 15 to 8. A warrant to close the theater in which the movie was to open was dismissed after a long-distance call to the White House confirmed that the film had been shown there. 29 303 60 173.

Justice White was very angry when advertising for the film stated that he approved it, and he threatened to denounce it publicly. Dixon clearly was rattled and upset by criticism by African Americans that the movie encouraged hatred against them, and he wanted the endorsement of as many powerful men as possible to offset such criticism. 28 page needed Dixon always vehemently denied having anti-Black prejudices despite the way his books promoted white supremacy and stated My books are hard reading for a Negro, and yet the Negroes, in denouncing them, are unwittingly denouncing one of their greatest friends.

In a letter sent on May 1, 1915, to Joseph P. Tumulty, Wilson s secretary, Dixon wrote The real purpose of my film was to revolutionize Northern sentiments by a presentation of history that would transform every man in the audience into a good Democrat. 28 430 In a letter to President Wilson sent on September 5, 1915, Dixon boasted This play is transforming the entire population of the North and the West into sympathetic Southern voters. Every man who comes out of the theater is a Southern partisan for life.

There will never be an issue of your segregation policy. 28 430 Dixon was alluding to the fact that Wilson, upon becoming president in 1913, had allowed cabinet members to impose segregation on federal workplaces in Washington, D. by reducing the number of Black employees through demotion or iqoption for mac. New opening titles on re-release Edit. One famous part of the film was added by Griffith only on the second run of the film 67 and is missing from most online versions of the film presumably taken from first run prints.

These are the second and third of three opening title cards which defend the film. A PLEA FOR THE ART OF THE MOTION PICTURE. The added titles read. We do not fear censorship, for we have no wish to offend with improprieties or obscenities, but we do demand, as a right, the liberty to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue the same liberty that is conceded to the art of the written word that art to which we owe the Bible and the works of Shakespeare.

If in this work we have conveyed to the mind the ravages of war to the end that war may be held in abhorrence, this effort will not have been in vain. Various film historians have expressed a range of views about these titles. To Nicholas Andrew Miller, this shows that Griffith s greatest achievement in The Birth of a Nation was that he brought the cinema s capacity for spectacle. under the rein of an outdated, but comfortably literary form of historical narrative.

are not the pioneers of film spectacle. but the giants of literary narrative. 69 On the other hand, S. Kittrell Rushing complains about Griffith s didactic title-cards, 70 while Stanley Corkin complains that Griffith masks his idea of fact in the rhetoric of high art and free expression and creates film which erodes the very ideal of liberty which he asserts. Griffith s models. Press reaction Edit. The New York Times gave it a quite brief review, calling it melodramatic and inflammatoryadding that A great deal might be said concerning the spirit revealed in Mr.

Dixon s review of the unhappy chapter of Reconstruction and concerning the sorry service rendered by its plucking at old wounds. Box office Edit. The box office gross of The Birth of a Nation is not known and has been the subject of exaggeration. 73 When the film opened, the tickets were sold at premium prices. The film played at the Liberty Theater at Times Square in New York City for 44 weeks with tickets priced at 2. 20 equivalent to 56 in 2019. 74 By the end of 1917, Epoch reported to its shareholders cumulative receipts of 4.

8 million, 75 and Griffith s own records put Epoch s worldwide earnings from the film at 5. 2 million as of 1919, 76 although the distributor s share of the revenue at this time was much lower than the exhibition gross. In the biggest cities, Epoch negotiated with individual theater owners for a percentage of the box office; elsewhere, the producer sold all rights in a particular state to a single distributor an arrangement known as state s rights distribution.

77 The film historian Richard Schickel says that under the state s rights contracts, Epoch typically received about 10 of the box office gross which theater owners often underreported and concludes that Birth certainly generated more than 60 million in box-office business in its first run. The film held the mantle of the highest-grossing film until it was overtaken by Gone with the Wind 1939another film about the Civil War and Reconstruction era.

78 79 By 1940 Time magazine estimated the film s cumulative gross rental the distributor s earnings at approximately 15 million. 80 For years Variety had the gross rental listed as 50 million, but in 1977 repudiated the claim and revised its estimate down to 5 million. 75 It is not known for sure how much the film has earned in total, but producer Harry Aitken put its estimated earnings at 15 18 million in a letter to a prospective investor in a proposed sound version.

76 It is likely the film earned over 20 million for its backers and generated 50 100 million in box office receipts. 4 In a 2015 Time article, Richard Corliss estimated the film had earned the equivalent of 1. 8 billion adjusted for inflation, a milestone that at the time had only been surpassed by Titanic 1997 and Avatar 2009 in nominal earnings.

Criticism Edit. Like Dixon s novels and play, Birth of a Nation received considerable criticism, both before and after its premiere. Dixon, who believed it entirely truthful, attributed this to Sectionalistsi. non-Southerners who in Dixon s opinion were hostile to the truth about the South. 29 301, 303 It was to counter these sinister forces and the dangerous.

menace that Dixon and Griffiths sought the backing of President Wilson and the Supreme Court. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACP protested at premieres of the film in numerous cities. According to the historian David Copeland, by the time of the movie s March 3 1915 premiere in New York City, its subject matter had embroiled the film in charges of racism, protests, and calls for censorship, which began after the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP requested the city s film board ban the movie.

Since film boards were composed almost entirely of whites, few review boards initially banned Griffith s picture. 82 The NAACP also conducted a public education campaign, publishing articles protesting the film s fabrications and inaccuracies, organizing petitions against it, and conducting education on the facts of the war and Reconstruction. 83 Because of the lack of success in NAACP s actions to ban the film, on April 17, 1915, NAACP secretary Mary Childs Nerney wrote to NAACP Executive Committee member George Packard I am utterly disgusted with the situation in regard to The Birth of a Nation.

kindly remember that we have put six weeks of constant effort of this thing and have gotten nowhere. Jane Addams, an American social worker and social reformer, and the founder of Hull House, voiced her reaction to the film in an interview published by the New York Post on March 13, 1915, just ten days after the film was released.

85 She stated that One of the most unfortunate things about this film is that it appeals to race prejudice upon the basis of conditions of half a century ago, which have nothing to do with the facts we have to consider to-day. It is claimed that the play is historical but history is easy to misuse. 85 In New York, Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise told the press after seeing The Birth of a Nation that the film was an indescribable foul and loathsome libel on a race of human beings.

28 426 In Boston, Booker T. On Saturday, April 10, and again on April 17, Trotter and a group of other Blacks tried to buy tickets for the show s premiere at the Tremont Theater and were refused. They stormed the box office in protest, 260 police on standby rushed in, and a general melee ensued. Trotter and ten others were arrested. Washington wrote a newspaper column asking readers to boycott the film, 28 426 while the civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter organized demonstrations against the film, which he predicted was going to worsen race relations.

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