The Birth of a Nation ★★½

*probably the only film on this site that singlehandedly deserves every single possible rating from half a star to five stars. I’ve just decided to give it half way which sucks because it would be a lot higher if it wasn’t so fucking racist*

For a college project in which we each got given a decade to which we were supposed to watch any film of that decade, i got 1910s so i decided to give this a watch. I’m so fucking done talking about this film so i’ve just copied and pasted the review i had to write for it and then hopefully i’m completely done with this film in my life.

The Birth Of A Nation is a 1915 drama
based on Thomas Dixon's novel The
Clansman. The film follows the
intertwined lives of 2 fictional families,
abolitionist (part of the movement to
end slavery) Northerners the
Stonemans and Southern landowners
the Camerons as racial and political
tensions rise during the era of The
American Civil War in the late 1800s.
The film is split into two parts; the first
half taking place during the Civil War
(a war fought between the U.S.A and
the Confederate States of America, a
collection of southern states, due to the
result of a long-standing disagreement
over the institution of slavery). The
second half (literally after an interval,
it's 1915 remember) taking place
during the 'reconstruction' period after
the War when African Americans
started to become accepted into
American society. Through this period
was born the Ku Klux Klan.
The film is directed by D.W. Griffith,
often referred to as the most important
filmmaker of his generation who you
could say quite literally invented
Hollywood. Griffith spent $110,000 on
the budget, becoming the most
expensive film ever at the time. The
film is also deemed as the first ever
blockbuster, the longest and most-
profitable film at the time and secured
both the future of feature-length films
through it's revolutionary methods of
story-telling which we still see today.
Nonetheless the film is also responsible
for the revival of the KKK due to it's
extremely insensitive, incredibly racist
portrayal of African Americans as
murderous and rapist savages filled
with racist stereotypes juxtaposed with
the Ku Klux Klan, who are portrayed
as heroic savours to the community
through their racist motivations.
Firstly, the story. Excluding the actual
message behind the film, TBOAN
storytelling is beyond impressive.
Through no dialogue and clocking in at
193 minutes, D.W Griffith manages to
tell an intricately woven story with all
the same familiar tropes we see still
today. I believe a huge part of that is
down to the original book which
manages to deal with several
storylines, character arcs and a clear
three act structure with the help of
literally hundreds of title-cards
explaining the context in between each
scene. I do have to admit ,these title-
cards felt quite tedious at the beginning
due to the old-fashioned wording and
the short period of time they were on
screen for. With time, It became
familiar and i soon enough adjusted to
this unfamiliar style of telling a story.
Whilst at times, the acting seemed
'caricature induced' due to the heavy
reliability on visual storytelling due to
there not being any dialogue, it never
crossed the line of 'pantomime-esque'.
The acting actually became a lot richer
in the second half with Henry B.
Walthall delivering a standout
performance as 'The Little Colonel'
mainly down to his facial expressions
without seeming over the top. Perhaps
the biggest positive to the story was
how masterfully structured the story
became. I was even able to draw
parallels to modern day cinema with
the likes of 'Boogie Nights', despite
being so extremely distanced in subject
matter. The parallel i was able to draw
was the divide between the first half
and the second half. After that gun goes
off at the midpoint, the story engulfs
into very much a dark tale. You could
say the same thing with 'Goodfellas'.
From the technical side, the film again
was beyond impressive due to the time
in which it was made. The
cinematography, whilst remaining still
most of the time, never felt boring or
lack-lustre which I believe is down the
framing of each shot. There were a
couple tracking shots which really
make you say 'wow' due to the year
being 1915 and how much of a
nightmare it must've been to pull off.
The use of colour tints whilst probably
seeming impressive at the time often
felt annoying or meaningless despite
there obviously being a key reason
which I just couldn't determine. The
soundtrack was astonishing with
several themes constantly lifting the
scenes and the emotions. Being over 3
hours long with no dialogue i've never
been more thankful to listen to 3 hours
of classical music. I do have to say that
whilst the music seemed beautiful to an
extent at the start, it soon turned into a
hauntingly dark theme (through no
intention of the filmmakers) as the later
scenes evolved into down right sinister
which leads me onto my next point.
Whilst proving itself to be a contextual
technical masterpiece, this is no excuse
to the irresponsible nature of the
subject matter which slowly just
evolves into a piece of white
supremacy propaganda trash that is
extremely distasteful to watch. Firstly,
the obvious use of blackface
throughout the entire film. Secondly,
the extremely racist portrayal of
African Americans in which they are
envisioned as essentially 'the bad-guys'
through racial stereotypes and the
savage nature with a disturbing scene
involving the attempted rape of a white
women by a black man. Thirdly, the
glorification of the Ku Klux Klan who
are formed to essentially 'save the day'.
This racist ideology made it extremely
difficult to empathise with the
characters and to see their actions as
justifiable knowing that this is not a
story which is pushing these white
characters as morally wrong at all. The
film did provide a moral struggle
between characters and a conflict in
their beliefs, before the main message
of the film became very apparent by
the final 10 minutes in which the Klans
actions are justified. Imagine the end of
The Return Of The Jedi, but they're
celebrating the KKK lynching African
Americans. It's infuriating.
 Despite the disgusting and blatant
racism, I do believe that this film is a
must-watch for two reasons. One, as
said before - the technical side is
without question a marvel to witness,
as you quite literally watch history
being made. Movies are perhaps the
closest thing we'll get to time-travel or
teleportation and this film is definitely
an interesting watch for that reason
alone, not of the actual story but to
watch a film that was made before your
grandparents were born. Secondly, the
message behind the film. Not to be
condoned but to witness and reflect on
the dark parts of history. Not
acknowledging our mistakes as a
society would mean that we're bound to
repeat them. This films message is so
incredibly wrong that it's almost a 'The
Room' scenario. 'The Room' is such a
terrible film that it's actually a good
film. 'The Birth Of A Nation's' message
is so messed up that it literally provides
a good message in that this is our
society's history. This is how black
people were treated. The Birth Of A
Nation attempted to show a dark piece
of history, subsequently shooting
themselves in the foot by creating a
dark and disgraceful piece of history in
the making. Nonetheless, if a film with
no dialogue can inspire a bunch of
rednecks to dress up in their mum's
bedsheets and reignite a clan, then this
is evident that films have always had
the power to inflict change into society
since the birth of cinema, positively
and negatively. Subsequently,
reinforcing the need for filmmakers to
be responsible in doing so.