On the 100th anniversary of D. W. Griffith’s epic The Birth of a Nation (1915), Black Cinema House presents a series of important films in the history of Black representation that, due to their notorious reputations, many contemporary viewers have never actually watched, certainly not in their entirety. Jacqueline Stewart (University of Chicago professor of Cinema & Media Studies, BCH curator) and Miriam Petty (Northwestern University, assistant professor of Radio/TV/Film) will introduce the films and lead discussion afterwards.
A controversial landmark in American cinema, D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) portrays two white families, abolitionist Northerners and Southern plantation owners, whose lives intertwine with the onset of the Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination, and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan. Based on the writings of Thomas Dixon, the film’s release stirred major protests over its extremist depiction of Reconstruction, its denigrating portrayal of African Americans, its hysterical rendering of miscegenation, its pro-Klan stance, and its endorsement of slavery. But the film has also been praised for its stylistic innovations and impact on the filmmaking industry, with scholars long characterizing it as one of the most important films in American history. (D.W. Griffith, 1915, 190 min)