What do you think are the two most important issues for you to take away from what you have learned? Why?

The film, Birth of a Nation (1915) is a silent film by director D.W. Griffith who pioneered film techniques and changed the way a film’s narrative told its story.  Because of this, and the inclusion of some of the most famous stars of the time, the movie had a huge commercial success and was a popular film.

However, the movie is racist and unapologetic about its attitudes, which are those of a white Southerner, raised in the 19th century, unable to see African-Americans as fellow beings of worth and rights.

Another part of Birth of a Nation’s legacy is that it was successfully used as a recruiting tool for the Ku Klux Klan which had a huge resurgence due in large part because of this film.

After Watching the film and reading the articles associated with the film answer the question below and reflect on the film.

While the film is uncomfortable at best to watch in 21st Century America, it has an important place in the history of racism and race issues.

  1. What do you think are the two most important issues for you to take away from what you have learned? Why?
  2. What would be your top two talking points about this film if you were to discuss it with friends or family members? Why?
  3. What recent films, TV shows, music, pieces of art address some of the same issues you talked about in questions 1 & 2? How do we/should we respond to them?

FYI: please use some of the class material provided in below links and attachments. also please provide all references used in answer.

movie link: please copy and paster in your browser. it might not open when you click directly on the link.


class material:



read after watching movie: “IN THE YEAR 1915- D.W. GRIFFITH AND THE WHITENING OF AMERICA”. this has been attached as a word document.

For us to understand how racial and ethnic minorities are represented in American movies, we need to briefly

examine how white people as a majority group in the American f ilm industry represents itself. It should also be

noted that the concept of characteristics that identify an individual or a group as belong ing to the Caucasian race

in American film are not as stable as is commonly supposed. When one surveys representations of whiteness in

the history of American film , fundamental questions are raised about the very nature of race and/or ethnicity.

People of non -Anglo -Saxon European ancestry have historically had to negotiate their relation to whiteness. If

American culture had different ideas about who was considered white at different times over the past centuries,

then claims about race and ethnicity as absolute markers of identity become highly problematic.

One of the most problematic aspects about race is that the average moviegoer usually only thinks about race

when seeing a movie about a racial or ethnic minority group. For example, most romantic comedies find humor

in how male and female characters each try to hold the upper hand in a relat ionship. While Crazy, Stupid, Love

(2011) starring Steve Carell and Julianne Moore is regarded simply as a r omantic comedy. Yet Why D id I Get

Married (2007) , starring two African American actors ( Tyler Perry and Sharon Leal ), is o ften regarded as a

“black” film . Likewise , most audiences and critics, considered Spawn (1997) , Blade in all three movies (1998,

2002, 2004), and Luke Cage (2016) to be film s or shows abou t an African -American superheroes whereas

Batman, Superman and Wonder Women in Batman v Superman (20 16) is simply a film about superhero es.

Accor ding to Harry Benshoff in America on Film (2016), These points underscore the Hollywood as sumption

that all viewers are able to identify with white characters, but th at the reverse is seldom true. Benshoff also

states that:

“Even today many white viewers choose not to see films starring non -white acto rs or films set in

minority ethnic environments, allegedly because they feel they cannot identify with the

characters. Because of that fact, Hollywood tends to spend more money on white stars in white

movies, and far less money on non -white actors in overt ly racial or ethnic properties. The very

structure of classical Hollywood narrative form encourages all spectators, regardless of their

actual color, to identify with white protagonists. This may result in highly conflicted viewing

positions, as when Nativ e American spectators are encouraged by Hollywood Westerns to root

for white cowboys battling evil Indians. ”

While there are more films each year featuring non -white leads, and even more regularly, non -white actors i n

supporting roles, we still see films where non -white actors/characters are placed in a film in order to quiet any

charges of racism. Sometimes this practice is referred to as tokenism . Token charact ers can often be found in

supporting roles that do not allow non -white characters to be the real hero or star of the story. In war featuring

mixed -race battalions, minor black and Hispanic characters frequently get kille d off as the film progresses,

leavi ng a white hero to save the day. Even football great Jim Brown, who appeared in The Dirty Dozen (1967)

is playing a character that performs an act that helps the squad complete the ir mission, he dies and is not able to

be hosted up as a hero.

Sometimes racialized stereotypes get inverted to c haracterize whiteness. Thus, if people of color are stereotyped

as physical and passionate, whiteness is sometimes satirized as bland and sterile. There are several films that

use white stereotypes as having no rhythm, unable to dance, or lacking sport skills is racist stereotypes that

assert that people of color are naturally more in touch with their physicality than whit e people. Many of t hese

stereotypes seem to persist from racist beliefs of earlier eras. One such belief was that white people were more

suited for mental and intellectual tasks , while non -white people were thought of as being more physically


Benshoff, Harry M.; Griffin, Sean. America on Film . 2016 . (p. 51 -52 ).

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