Thursday, February 3, 2011

What to Overlook/Birth of a Nation

Yesterday afternoon I was really bored. I chose to take a day off from Producing duties & I decided to catch up on some movie watching. I came across a list of must-see movies. It included a lot of classics that I had seen but one that I had not, "The Birth of a Nation".

This is a 1915 silent film based on the novel, 'The Clansman' by Thomas Dixon. In three hours this film chronicles the Civil War era, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and of course the birth of the extremist, white-supremist group "The Klu Klux Klan".

From my observation there seem to be a few major opinions of people that have watched this movie. 1. They hate it, it's racist. 2. It is racist but it's a great film considering that it pioneered new camera techniques, cinematic and artistic techniques. And we cannot judge those that made the film because it was nearly a century ago. A third opinion is that it's just overall a great film and disregard the racist undertones.

I'm torn. Yes, there are several scenes where "blacks" (actually white actors in blackface) are portrayed in a negative light. Yes, it is quite offensive and I cringed a little when I watched some scenes. Especially the glorifying of the "KKK" as a heroic group that ultimately saves the day.

Looking at it as an audience member is tough because you can't imagine someone making a film like that today. But a lot of critics say that it was a pioneering force in the film industry. The American Film Institute even voted it one of the Top 100 American Films in 1998 (#44). So what are we supposed to overlook? As an artist am I supposed to respect this movie for the aforementioned aspects and take its racist undertones with a grain of salt because it was 1915? Or should I look more to the content in this film to guide me towards an opinion and disregard the fact that is was the most successful silent film ever made?

What do you think?

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