Home » film as life » birth of a nation, 1st american film, ushered in racism

birth of a nation, 1st american film, ushered in racism


July 2013
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that was in 1915.

d.w. griffith’s celebrated birth of a nation– was america’s first feature film. it was banned in some cities only, and not others, because of its derogatory images of African americans and associations to KKK. despite this ban, griffith went on to direct 27 more films. i’d call that success! especially at the birth of the century in cinema!

compare griffith to another filmmaker, gillo pontecorvo, italian, who had been filming for a decade, and who disappeared from the prolific screenworld after his battle of algiers released in 1966.battle of algiers dramatizes algeria’s struggle for independence between 1956 and 1957 against French occupied Algeria, during which the nationalist movement shifted its focus from rural kabylia and the aurès mountains to the capital, algiers. the film shows torture on Algerians by French among other barbaric punishment forms.
how dare he [pontecorvo] portray/present france in such a negative light? for that, he was banned for 7 years in france and in cinema.

this ban shows the difference of who can represent what [d.w. Griffith] and who cannot [pontecorvo] or who cannot have an impact on freedom and the right to voice it on film so the world could see. today, we witness the same stifling effect in the zimmerman case against the young black teenager trayvon martin whom zimmerman shot dead. since the Zimmerman verdict, americans have been crying out for justice for blacks especially, and equal justice for all. like battle of algiers which also fought for [screen] justice for the marginalized algerians, trayvon martin lost his voice and image. pontecorvo and his film was on the wrong side, like trayvon. but pontecorvo was silenced for 7 years, while trayvon, for the rest of his unlived life.

birth of the nation ushered America[n cinema] into an era of racism that hasn’t ended yet in 2013. a film does not die. criterion re releases it making it permanent, making it watchable for year and years, giving us many joyful viewings. like this film on racism, history repeats itself in the Zimmerman vs martin case or amadou diallo or that black girl in florida who shot a bullet in the air to deter her abusive husband from beating her.
perhaps- or even despite -the fact that cinematic images show something different today than from the birth of the nation days, the Zimmerman case proves that racism is NOT over. not all americans are free to take action against racism or to voice their discontent. Zimmerman’s lawyer’s statement that if Zimmerman were black he wouldn’t have been acquitted proves that we are still blind to racism. racism may have become illegal in theory, but in principle, it remains a well guarded image.


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