Hollywood’s firstsilent produced film The Birth of aNation seemed to be the most successful advanced film of its time. The Birth of a Nation was the first filmthat was shown in the White House, it definitely sparked arguments, riots, anddivisiveness since its very first release. The film’s director D.W Griffith, hadtechniques and storytelling power which made The Birth of a Nation an important landmark in film history. “Birth of a Nation”shows how many early twentieth-century Americans wanted to view the Civil War,and fantasize the South in some romantic way.
It also pictures how assumptionsabout other races really helped bring together white Americans, and shows whiteSoutherners as the victims. Some historians believe that this film exposed aphilosophy that excused the violence and inequality. The film was beingadvertised as “authentic and accurate,” the main African American characters in thefilm—were all played by white American actors in blackface. In the film the storyline is around two families who arefriends because their sons board together at school during the time of theCivil War and The Reconstruction. The Cameron’s, the Southern family, own amodest plantation in Piedmont, South Carolina. In their plantation, many slavesare shown picking cotton joyfully, and dancing to entertain and make their mastershappy too. The Cameron family consists of five siblings.
Throughout the motion picture, Ben seems tobecome the main character and is shown defending the Souths mindset. Whilethe Northern family, The Stoneman’s live in Washington, D.C.
, and own a getawayin Pennsylvania. The ethical Austin Stoneman, who is an abolitionist politician,administers his family. The film seems to be in halves, with historicalchronological events during the Civil War. After an introduction that indictsthe Civil War and Reconstruction on the introduction of Africans to America, theStoneman boys go South during to visit their old friends. Romances develop, andDr.
Cameron reads a newspaper stating that the South will separate from theUnion if the North Carries in the next elections. After the Stoneman’s leavethe South, the war begins and complicates things between the two families. While the film seemed to be a hit, it was also problematicdue to its perspective of American history. Griffith paints the picture of theKKK as heroes and Southern blacks as villains, and gives the idea that they area threat to America. The film also explored two massive American problems:inter-racial sex and marriage, and the empowerment of African American people.
Thefirst mention of war is the scene where Abraham Lincoln signs the call for thefirst seventy-five thousand volunteers, the film also seemed to portray AbrahamLincoln as a friend of the Confederacy, and refers to him as “The Great Heart.”The film also suggested that the Ku Klux Klan restored order to the postwarSouth, which was depicted as endangered by abolitionists, freedmen, and “carpet-baggingRepublican” politicians from the North. Griffith portrayed the emancipatedslaves as heathens, as unworthy of being free, uncivilized, and primarilyconcerned with passing laws so that they could marry white women and “prey onthem.” When in reality, was not true.
But at the time when it was released,much of the storyline was accepted as “historically accurate.” Not only did thefilm showcase a different view on American history, but it also had themes andsymbolism. One of the themes that poked out was preserving Southernhonor.
Though in actual history, the South ultimately loses the Civil War,Griffith exploits every opportunity to present the Southern forces as theheroes. Since the South is known for embodying honor and nobility, every defeatthe Southerners suffer in the movie, seems to be redeemed by the courage thatthe Southerners display throughout the film. An example of this would be whenBen Cameron’s troops are defeated only because they haven’t eaten in days andthe Northern army greatly outnumbers them. Even in that severe situation, histroops still manage to risk their lives in a final attack to show that theSouth will still be brave and fight to honor their ideals. As seen in the moviewhen the South loses the battle, its honor and glory are kept and impressedamongst the minds of the Northern invaders which symbolizes that the Southernhonor goes far beyond the battle scenes.
Another theme that cannot go unintroduced is “proper relationships.”Birth of a Nation features a handfulamount of developing personal relationships. Which are Ben and Elsie, Phil andMargaret, and lastly, Stoneman and Lydia.
As well as relationships that arepursued, but never consummated in any way, whom are Lynch and Elsie, Gus andFlora. The film seems to separates the relationships into two kinds: those thatare “natural and divine”, and those that are “evil.” In the film, it is obviousthat it condemns relationships that are solely based on physical attraction. Anexample of this would be when Stoneman touches Lydia’s naked shoulder, and thenthey become sexually intimate with one another, and Lynch lusts after Elsie.
The film also banishes the idea of bi-racial relationships, such as Gus chasingafter Flora which is depicted as disgusting and inhumane. Both Gus and Lynchrush to have the item of their desire, which is a symptom of an unnatural relationship.While Ben and Elsie are reunited with a war injury after Ben dreams of her fortwo years, along while Phil and Margaret seem to have instant chemistry uponmeeting each other, and are shown developing a traditional and gentle relationshipthat the writers seem to encourage throughout the film. Both of theserelationships follow the theme of “properrelationships.” Along with these themes, there are also a few symbols in themovie. Hollywood’s first film had major symbolism in certainareas. Costuming is one of the very important symbols, and certainly tells theessential parts of the characters in the film itself.
In one particular scene,there is a part where the “renegade” blacks rampage the Cameron home and oneman on camera is shown only wearing a tattered shirt that shows off his bulgingmuscles. The whole tattered shirt outfit seems to effectively symbolize slavestrue “savagery.” Another major symbol in the film is President AbrahamLincoln himself. The film portrays Lincoln with respect and they associate himwith goodness as mentioned earlier. The film’s characters seem to treat and seeLincoln as some sort of Godly figure, and an example of this is when Mrs.Cameron appears to be implying that Lincoln could save her sons life.
As readin the Bible, we know for a face that Jesus is written giving miracles topeople who need them, and healing those who are sick. In conclusion, although the film isvery controversial and racist; it was seen as correct and accurate at it’stime. It is an important part of our social U.
S history, and Hollywood history.It’s messages and storyline were written out of an artistic vision, and was thefirst film to have a positive and negative impact on the American people whostood on either side of the Civil War.