Watch The Birth of a Nation
- 3 hr 10 min
The Birth of a Nation is a silent film from 1915, directed by D.W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, and Henry B. Walthall. The film, often regarded as a controversial classic in the history of cinema, depicts the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era in the United States, through the eyes of two families from the North and the South.
The first half of the film covers the events leading up to the outbreak of the Civil War. The Stoneman family, led by congressman Austin Stoneman (played by Ralph Lewis), are abolitionists from the North. The Cameron family, played by Walthall, Marsh, and Gish, are warm-hearted Southern landowners, who are fiercely loyal to the Confederacy. The story unfolds as the two families' sons, Ben Cameron and Phil Stoneman, become friends at college, despite their differing opinions on slavery.
As tensions rise between the North and the South, the film portrays the violent outbreak of the Civil War, through visually stunning battle scenes, recreated with hundreds of extras. The film then moves on to depict the Reconstruction Era, when the Cameron family, along with many other Southerners, are left destitute and humiliated by the Northern victors.
The second half of the film focuses on the Ku Klux Klan, which is portrayed as a heroic force, protecting the South from corrupt Northern politicians and the supposedly corrupt and inept black government officials. The Klan becomes particularly important when a mulatto named Silas Lynch (played by George Seigmann) is elected as a Lieutenant Governor, and is supported by the radical Republicans. The Klan's leaders, including Phil Stoneman and Ben Cameron, become determined to restore the South to its former glory and rescue it from the control of black rule.
The Birth of a Nation was groundbreaking in many ways. It is often regarded as the first feature length film, and its use of advanced filmmaking techniques, such as close-ups, long shots, and panoramic views, were pioneering. Additionally, the film's attempt to accurately depict the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era was groundbreaking, and the battle scenes, in particular, were incredibly realistic and technically impressive.
However, the film's portrayal of African Americans as barbaric and unintelligent, and the glorification of the Ku Klux Klan, has led to it being considered as a racist propaganda film. The film's depiction of the Klan as heroes and African Americans as villains was particularly harmful, as it reinforced negative stereotypes and further perpetuated a culture of racism. The film was extremely controversial and sparked protests from civil rights groups, and in some areas, it was banned altogether.
Despite its problematic content, The Birth of a Nation is still regarded as a major milestone in the history of cinema, and its influence can be seen in films from directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola. The film's cinematography, storytelling, and technical innovation were unmatched for its time, and it remains a testament to the power of film to shape our understanding of history and culture.
The Birth of a Nation is a 1915 drama with a runtime of 3 hours and 10 minutes. It has received moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.2.