Southern Belles & the KKK
The Birth of a Nation is a controversial, racist and landmark melodrama that was originally released under the title, “The Clansman" in February of 1915. The release was in Los Angeles, California and after three months was premiering in New York under the new title.
The movie was based on the former North Carolina Baptist minister, Reverend Thomas Dixon Jr.’s stage play, The Clansman, which was the second part to a trilogy. With a horrible depiction of African Americans as the "bad guys," Griffith still claims he wasn’t racist at the time he wrote the series, although the film is still shown to recruit Klan members.
The film brought about immediate controversy and criticism by the NAACP for the racist portrayal of blacks, the pro-Klan outlook and the endorsement of slavery. With this outcry, two scenes were edited from the film. Riots broke out in various major cities around the country, such as Boston and Philadelphia. The film was turned away in other cities such as Chicago, Ohio, Denver, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Minneapolis. Lawsuits and picketing followed the film’s showing for years. The Birth of a Nation was re-released in 1924, 1931 and 1938.
The technical effects and innovative cinematic achievements in the film has placed this movie in the “Top 100 American Films", rated at number 44 in the list, by the Institute. The controversy continues for some that watch this film, as to the enlistment by the Institute. The Birth of a Nation was a true hit on the big screen, in terms of making $18 million during the beginning of talkie movies.
In the presentation of the KKK shown as heroes and southern blacks as negative characters, white folks loved the appeal of the old plantation southern style. A romantic love affair by northern and southern characters gave the film a love story touch that viewers couldn’t resist. The film represented what white folks feared the most about African American people at the time, all captured using real characters, facts and truth in storytelling. Because of this, the world opened its eyes to the realistic view of the KKK and how blacks were treated during this unsettled time in history.