Birth of a Film Controversy
After watching a film clip from D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, read the
following review, which ran in The New York Times on March 4, 1915. Discuss in
class The Times’ review, the basic plot of the movie, and Griffith’s contributions to
film history, as well as his racist portrayals in the movie.
“The Birth of a Nation”
Film Version of Dixon’s “The Clansman”
Presented at the Liberty.
“The Birth of a Nation,” an elaborate new motion picture taken on an ambitious scale,
was presented for the first time last evening at the Liberty Theatre. With the addition of
much preliminary historical matter, it is a film version of some of the melodramatic and
inflammatory material contained in “The Clansman,” by Thomas Dixon.
A great deal might be said concerning the spirit revealed in Mr. Dixon’s review of the
unhappy chapter of Reconstruction and concerning the sorry service rendered by its
plucking at old wounds. But of the film as a film, it may be reported simply that it is an
impressive new illustration of the scope of the motion picture camera.
An extraordinarily large number of people enter into this historical pageant, and some
of the scenes are most effective. The Civil War battle pictures, taken in panorama,
represent enormous effort and achieve a striking degree of success. One interesting
scene stages a reproduction of the auditorium of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, and
shows on the screen the murder of Lincoln. In terms of purely pictorial value the best
work is done in those stretches of the film that follow the night riding of the men of the
Ku-Klux Klan, who look like a company of avenging spectral crusaders sweeping along
the moonlit roads.
“The Birth of a Nation,” which was prepared for the screen under the direction of D.
W. Griffith, takes a full evening for its unfolding and marks the advent of the two dollar
movie. That is the price set for the more advantageous seats in the rear of the Liberty’s
It was at this same theatre that the stage version of “The Clansman” had a brief run a
little more than nine years ago, as Mr. Dixon himself recalled in his curtain speech last
evening in the interval between the two acts. Mr. Dixon also observed that he would
have allowed none but the son of a Confederate soldier to direct the film version of “The