Jenny Barrett
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‘Go see it because it will make a better American of you’
The Birth of a Nation in the era of ‘fake news’
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The relationship between historical narratives and film is one that regularly gives rise to a debate about fidelity or authenticity because of a perceivable ‘interplay’ of fact and fiction that fulfils an agenda. From the release of D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, this debate has evolved around accusations of lies and affirmations of truth from the public, from civil and censorship bodies, religious figures and the director himself. In a review of audience reception of a dramatised lecture about the film in its centenary year, this chapter argues that there is a strong perception of the film as ‘false history’, with a view that it should not be banned from public exhibition but instead used in a critical context to educate and inform. Contemporary culture and politics, also, raise similar debates, particularly over the phenomenon of ‘fake news’. The chapter then reviews Griffith’s promotion of his film in 1915 in the light of current views on fake news and identifies some remarkable parallels between them. It is concluded that Birth offers us one tool by which to promote media literacy and critical thinking in the world of digital communications.

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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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