Friday, April 06, 2012

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2012, April 6: The Tea Party and "Birth of a Nation"

Bob McElvaine in Re-Birth of a Nation? Huffington Post 02/24/2012 reflects on director D.W. Griffith's famous and notorious silent film Birth of a Nation (1915), which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and generally promoted neo-Confederate/Lost Cause thinking and attitudes:

Barack Obama is the sum of all the fears that were brought together in The Birth of a Nation -- and that persist in a sizable minority of white Americans. As late as 1954, those fears were expressed by someone as mainstream as President Dwight D. Eisenhower when he lobbied new Chief Justice Earl Warren before the Brown decision by saying to him of white segregationists, "these are not bad people; they just don't want their sweet little daughters to have to sit next to some big black buck."

Much as the fictional Silas Lynch was portrayed as even worse than black men because he was the product of interracial sex, Barack Obama is the worst nightmare of whites who still have the outlook Griffith presented cinematically a century ago. He is the result of a sweet little white daughter marrying a big black buck: Gus getting Flora. They see the election of such a person as the "Death of a Nation"--their nation.

Regressive Americans have in the past three years been, as Griffith put it in 1915, "forced to recognize the mulatto's position." They're mad as hell and they don't want to take it anymore.

Tim Dirks writes of the movie at the AMC Filmsite review, n/d (accessed 04/05/2012):

Film scholars agree, however, that it is the single most important and key film of all time in American movie history - it contains many new cinematic innovations and refinements, technical effects and artistic advancements, including a color sequence at the end. It had a formative influence on future films and has had a recognized impact on film history and the development of film as art. In addition, at almost three hours in length, it was the longest film to date. ...

Director Griffith's original budget of $40,000 (expanded to $60,000) quickly ballooned, so Griffith appealed to businessmen and other investors to help finance the film - that eventually cost $110,000! The propagandistic film was one of the biggest box-office money-makers in the history of film, partly due to its exorbitant charge of $2 per ticket - unheard of at the time. This 'first' true blockbuster made $18 million by the start of the talkies. [It was the most profitable film for over two decades, until Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).]

The subject matter of the film caused immediate criticism by the newly-created National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for its racist and "vicious" portrayal of blacks, its proclamation of miscegenation, its pro-Klan stance, and its endorsement of slavery. As a result, two scenes were cut (a love scene between Reconstructionist Senator and his mulatto mistress, and a fight scene). But the film continued to be renounced as "the meanest vilification of the Negro race." Riots broke out in major cities (Boston, Philadelphia, among others), and it was denied release in many other places (Chicago, Ohio, Denver, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Minneapolis, eight states in total). Subsequent lawsuits and picketing tailed the film for years when it was re-released (in 1924, 1931, and 1938).
Tags: , , ,

No comments: