The Atlantic Selects
Inside the 1915 Protest to Ban The Birth of a Nation
Feb 02, 2017
When The Birth of a Nation, the KKK-friendly blockbuster by D.W. Griffith, was released in 1915, a Boston-based African American newspaper editor named William Monroe Trotter began a movement against the film. This excerpt from the documentary Birth of a Movement tells the story of how Trotter, an activist and civil-rights leader, organized anti-Birth of a Nation protests in the Boston area. Trotter saw the film as regressive and incredibly harmful to the image of African Americans in society. “Cinema is so important to American popular culture...this is where people go to see their fears and fantasies realized. It’s also where they go to learn history,” says Vince Brown, a Harvard University historian, in the documentary. “D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation was the single most important American film in early cinema...The film is about history, it’s about the Civil War, and Reconstruction, and the birth of a nation. It just so happens that the American nation has to be born out of white supremacy.”
The full documentary has its broadcast premiere February 6, 2017, at 10 p.m on Independent Lens on PBS.
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Author: Nadine Ajaka
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A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.