100 Years Later, Still Carries an Impact, Still Racist as Hell

by Gordon Shelly

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, because, really, you have to decide for yourself if this is worthy of continued praise, worthy of watching or worthy of carrying on about.

I believe Roger Ebert said it best in a 2003 review when he wrote, “Griffith demonstrated to every filmmaker and moviegoer who followed him what a movie was, and what a movie could be.”

Indeed, he did. In terms of technical achievements, story development and filmmaking acumen.  So, if you take the film on those merits alone, it should be remembered as a zenith in filmmaking.

However, can we actually do that? Can we honestly say that if we disagree with the message that we can still find this to be a great film?

The Birth of a Nation
Directed by
D.W. Griffith
Lillian Gish
Release Date
Gordon’s Grade: D

I, for one, cannot. The message is too powerfully racist, especially in today’s world of post-sixties civil rights activism. We celebrate the martyrdom of Martin Luther King, Jr. We have elected a black president. Still, racism resides, and, as a nation, we still have great strides to make.

In his same review, Ebert asks, “Is it possible to separate the content from the craft?” Ebert argues that we should be able to.

I would argue that the content is the craft.

And, in the case of The Birth of a Nation, the content cannot be overlooked. It should not be overlooked.

I do offer you this:

100 years ago D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” was released. Its cinematic value was groundbreaking. Its social impact greater? Worse? You decide. Discuss. Get in the conversation. Watch the complete 3-hour epic and decide — an atrocity of American art or a cinematic masterpiece or something else altogether?

Watch it. Decide for yourself. Comment below.