Jonathan Ward
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Examining the ‘White Saviour’ in The Birth of a Nation
in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation
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This chapter examines the White Saviour in D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) and analyses the particular legacy of this figure as seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012). In terms of filmic representation and racial ideologies, the White Saviour is an example of Griffith’s legacy that is particularly impactful. While many scholars have written of the White Saviour trope as a figure who works to uplift or improve non-whites around them, this chapter considers this trope as being more broadly a figure whose function is to centre and save whiteness, whether or not non-white figures are constructed as passive recipients of salvation. In this examination, the White Saviour can be understood as being a more expansive trope that is not contingent upon the salvation of non-white figures, but is fundamentally reliant upon, and always marked by, concretising whiteness as superior to non-whiteness.

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D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation

Art, culture and ethics in black and white

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