film values

Film History Class: Birth of a Nation

At college more than 30 years ago, in one of the film history classes I attended, the instructor showed us Birth of a Nation (BoaN), directed by D.W. Griffith. He prefaced the film with a brief lecture concerning the reason the film is significant as far as filmmaking techniques go, and then at the end, he addressed the racism of the story. He urged us to try to separate the film techniques from the attitudes expressed in the story. During the film, a few students walked out. I stayed to watch the film to try to learn about Griffith’s techniques, but the underlying racist attitudes of the story were stomach-churning.

Having since learned of the damage the film did (revitalizing the KKK, etc.), I can’t justify in my mind continuing to show it to students in class. It turns out, D.W. Griffith was not all that innovative either. For more details on the many problems with BoaN, feel free to check out this thread on Twitter from @MoviesSilently, whom I recently discovered and followed.

Bottom line: there is no reason to continue teaching these myths surrounding D.W. Griffith.