100 Years of The Birth of a Nation, or, The Persistence of Cinematic Resistance

Duke University Press News

The film The Birth of a Nation premiered in Los Angeles on February 8, 1915. In this guest post, Allyson Nadia Field, author of Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film and the Possibility of Black Modernity (June 2015) considers its legacy.

birth of a nation posterOn the centennial of D.W. Griffith’s epic film The Birth of a Nation, two things are striking—how egregious the film’s racism is and how its racism resonates a hundred years later. The first blockbuster of American cinema has long been a flashpoint for film scholars who have recognized the aesthetic, industrial and cultural significance of the film while lamenting its portrayal of African Americans. Some have argued that the fact that its technical mastery is in the service of the subjugation of a people indicates the inseparability of the film’s content from its form. The film then serves as an object lesson in film form and ideology—a…

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