‘Birth of a Nation’ to overturn racist predecessor

Joel Hopkins, Reporter

If you are any bit interested in the history of film, you are probably familiar with an older picture, titled, “The Birth of a Nation,” a black and white silent film by director D.W. Griffith. The film, set during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods, follows both a northern and a southern family whose stories intertwine while they attempt to survive the film’s awfully racist depiction of a “black-ruled south.”

“The Birth of a Nation” was met with both critical acclaim and controversy upon its release in 1915. Due to its groundbreaking film techniques, unfortunately accompanied by blatant racism, critics nowadays still struggle with praising the film for its tremendous influence on Hollywood. At the same time they condemn its horrendous stereotypes of African Americans during this era of American history.

In Griffith’s depiction of the South, African Americans are portrayed as animals. They are displayed as unintelligent and dangerous people, who attack defenseless whites in attempts to “rule the south.” Only a group of a few brave men can stop these evildoers, the heroic force of the film: the Ku Klux Klan.

Believe it or not, a title with a 100-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a film where African Americans are the villains, and the KKK are the heroes.

It sounds unimaginable by today’s standards that a film like this could be well received by anyone, but in 1915, it did shockingly well. The film was estimated to have made between $50 and $100 million at the box office and one million people had seen the film within a year of its release. The film’s release led to the KKK’s resurgence and attempts were made by the NAACP to ban the film.

“The Birth of a Nation has come up in the news recently, due to a new film that will hit theaters this October, similarly titled, “The Birth of a Nation.”

The new “Birth of a Nation,” which will be Nate Parker’s directorial debut has decided to take the name of a film, which glorified a hate-group and fueled racism, and flip everything it stands for on its head. Parker’s film will follow the story of Nat Turner, an enslaved African-American man who in 1831 led a famous slave rebellion in Southampton County, Va., which resulted in the deaths of over 50 white people.

The choice of title alone has peaked the interest of many.

In an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, Parker was asked why he chose to reuse a title with such negative racial connotations. He responded, “I’ve reclaimed this title and re-purposed it as a tool to challenge racism and white supremacy in America…and to promote the kind of honest confrontation that will galvanize our society toward healing and sustained systemic change.”

Instead of allowing the original film to continue to taint the ideas of what our nation should stand for, Parker’s new “Birth of a Nation” attempts to turn the tables and fight the intolerant themes of its predecessor.

The film hits theaters in the U.S. on Oct. 7. It’s coming at a time where racial tensions are boiling around the country. With two African American men shot by police in two different cities just last week and the protests that followed, it is times like these that we need to look at where we are as a country.

Maybe this new “Birth of a Nation” is a film we should all take the time to see. By taking on the name of its racist 1915 counterpart, the film reaffirms that we cannot change the mistakes of the past, nor should we forget them, but we can instead look forward in learning from them and working towards a future of equality for everyone.


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