More than a century after its release in 1915, D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation remains one of the most controversial films in cinema history. Drawing together a range of scholars and practitioners, this volume reveals a continued fascination in this film as a gauge of American racism and a milestone of early cinema that allows us to recognise the complex relationship between art, culture and ethics. Through stimulating analyses and new research on its reception, both on its release and one hundred years later, this book offers fresh, engaging perspectives on Birth. Topics include the presence of African American actors in the film, the craft of Griffith’s racist dialectics, public reception of the film in the state of Virginia and re-reading promotion of the film as ‘fake news’. It traces Birth’s legacies through historical and contemporary cinema and art, demonstrating that its significance has not diminished. Vivid relationships are drawn between the film and the art of Kara Walker and Kehinde Wiley. Traditions are found both upheld and challenged in film works by Oscar Micheaux, Matthew McDaniel, DJ Spooky, Nate Parker and Quentin Tarantino. In the context of ongoing struggles over racial inequities in the twenty-first century, with white supremacist activity very much a part of the contemporary world, this book thus offers relevant and productive routes into the study of Griffith’s film.
depressingly, as was highlighted in a number of studies, it demonstrated the disturbing extent of the Bureau’s surveillance of individuals associated with the black freedom struggle. 20 Perhaps most pointed of all was the observation of African American filmmaker Spike Lee who, on being made aware of the more than 3,600 pages of FBI papers released on Malcolm X, reflected if that was what the Bureau was prepared to admit to, what did that suggest about what was not released, what files were destroyed and which ‘documents will we never know about?’ 21 Malcolm X continued
. 10 C . Regester , ‘ The Misreading and Rereading of African American Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux: A Critical Review of Micheaux Scholarship ’, Film History , 7 : 4 ( 1995 ), 426 . 11 J . Snead , ‘ Images of Blacks in Black Independent Films
had been provisionally allocated to the liberal white director Norman Jewison, Lee fought hard to take it over, arguing that only an African American filmmaker could do justice to such a key figure in black history. While the film he eventually delivered is well regarded for its dissemination of Malcolm’s life and thought to a contemporary mass audience, bell hooks, a figure of interest to us already in this chapter, states baldly that ‘there is no visual standpoint or direction in Malcolm X that would indicate that a white director could not have made this film