Episode 24, 25 & 26: The Birth of a Nation
I initially planned to have each of these episodes to have their own webpage, but it has since become very clear to me that that would be less helpful for anyone actually using the website, and much harder to make work in a reasonable way. So instead, I have put the whole kitten caboodle right here, for you to enjoy all at once. If you would like, you can think of these episodes as one, great, feature length effort, like Kill Bill Vol. 1 & Vol. 2.
Good luck exploring all this!
Thomas Dixon wrote the 1905 book The Clansman, upon which The Birth of a Nation was based. Dixon's ideas are fundamentally harmful, and have hurt many people. Their power was magnified with the release of D.W. Griffith's 1915 film. While not their originators of the ideas of white nationalism and racial terrorism, ideas which took root over decades and centuries, Dixon and Griffith were among the loudest proponents of them. The words and images created by Dixon and Griffith still haunt the United States to this day.
D. W. Griffith: The Father of Film (1993)
This is a cool little documentary made for Public Television in The United States. In the 90's many people still credited D. W. Griffith with practically inventing cinema, and often downplayed his overt racism, and there is some of that here, but it is still, overall, very good.
The Actual Movie:
The Birth of a Nation (1915) – all three hours of it.
In terms of its picture quality, this is pretty much as good as it gets, being a blu-ray rip from the Kino release.
In terms of film quality? Impressive technique, but malignant. It is frighteningly raciest in its depiction of African American men, and is full of raciest caricatures of black people. Listen to the episodes above to find out more about the film.
Below are some of the open internet resources that I found really helpful while doing research for this episode. Of course I cant link you books, or articles I had to access through my local library, but I'll do my best. I particularly loved The Birth of a Movement: The Battle Against America’s First Blockbuster. It focuses a lot more on the Black leaders who protested against the The Birth of a Nation than I did, and was amazingly well done.
Oscar Micheaux is a really big deal. He was one the of the first Black U.S. filmmakers, and used his movies to respond to the actual horrors of racism in America. We will be talking about him for a long time here on the podcast.