A Race Misrepresented

         The intentions of the film makers of Birth of a Nation, directed in 1915 by D.W. Griffith, were to convey to the viewers what events took place in the nineteenth century. The events they chose to include in this silent film were the Civil War, assassination of President Lincoln, the end of slavery, and the creation of the Ku Klux Klan.

         The tone of this film was in my opinion comic. There were several parts that were very comedic, such as when the two groups of friends (one from the North and one from the South) gathered together to visit in the South. However, the film itself was not intended to be comic all the way through, just in isolated scenes. Many of the fighting scenes were comedic. Some of the scenes were unintentionally funny due to the overacting.

         The actors, such as Lillian Gish and Mae Marsh, that were cast were great for their parts of Elsie Stoneman and Flora Cameron. All of the actors in this silent film were very dramatic with their gestures and facial expressions, as is expected in silent films. Some of the actors, however, were painted to look like African Americans when they were not African American; this contributed to the racist elements of the film.

         I am not very familiar with the dress of that time period; however, the costumes in this film were what I imagine they would be. The dresses were very large and poofy, and men's clothes consisted of dress pants and a nice shirt.

         The settings were very realistic indoor and out. The houses were as I expected, very large and ornately decorated. The outdoor scenes seem as if they were outdoors. However, in the battle scene, it was evident that it was two different scenes melded together in one frame. This was very advanced for the time period the film was shot. Even thought the film was in black and white, it still had a very good color tinting to it in places. The colors were not fuzzy, and there was not too much popping compared to other silent movies I have seen.

         The scenes seemed to flow very well together, and the insertion of the script was well placed. The film flowed smoothly from the script to the film and from the film to the script. There were not too many abrupt changes.

         The music sounded throughout the entire movie. I believe the music, conducted years afterwards by Carl Davis, followed the story well; it was appropriate for each scene.

         The film glorified white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan. It unjustifiably placed the African Americans in a bad light. This film made the Caucasians look helpless while the African Americans ran amok.

         It failed to show how those African Americans were beaten, the women raped, and the children were mistreated by those very people the film makers decided to depict as helpless. I would have run amok as well if I had been an African American in that time period. This was one film I hope to never see again, mainly because of the content and the presentation of the content.

Sarah Ellegood

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