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[[caption-width-right:350: Next to the film itself, this poster looks almost subtle.]]

->''"Classic or not, ''Birth of a Nation'' has long been one of the embarrassments of film scholarship. It can't be ignored ... and yet it was regarded as outrageously racist even at a time when racism was hardly a household word."''
-->-- '''Andrew Sarris'''

->''"Despite ''Birth''[='s=] blatant glorification of the KKK and depiction of black Americans as wild animals, this movie still ... nope, we're not finishing that sentence. On one hand, it pioneered concepts like actually moving the cameras and using rapid cuts, and you're probably still seeing its influence in movies today. On the other hand, ''everything else about it.''"''
-->--'''Website/{{Cracked}}''', [[http://www.cracked.com/article_19826_6-iconic-scenes-ripped-off-from-lesser-known-movies_p2.html 6 Iconic Scenes Ripped Off From Lesser Known Movies]]

''The Birth of a Nation'' is a 1915 silent movie directed by Creator/DWGriffith, starring famous silent film actress Creator/LillianGish, and one of Hollywood's first great "epic" films. Based on the 1905 novel ''The Clansman'' by Thomas Dixon.

The plot of ''The Birth of a Nation'' is a two-part chronicle of American history. The first part depicts the nation before, during, and after UsefulNotes/TheAmericanCivilWar, from the perspective of two juxtaposed families - the Northern Stonemans, who are abolitionists and federalists, and the Southern Camerons, who are secessionists. When war breaks out, the houses must send their sons off to their respective opposing armies. The Camerons suffer many hardships in the war torn and depleted South, and must deal with hunger, ransackers, looters, and rapists. Eventually, the Union army crushes the Confederacy, ending the war. President Abraham Lincoln promises to rebuild the South, in spite of protests from vengeful Northern politicians who would execute its leaders and treat the land as conquered territory. But Abraham Lincoln is assassinated at Ford's Theater, allowing the Radical Republicans, led by Austin Stoneman, to gain strength and support for inflicting punitive measures on the South for their rebellion.

The second part depicts the Reconstruction era. With the war over and slavery abolished, new issues arrive that America must resolve. The South must be rebuilt and [[YouWillBeAssimilated re-integrated]] as part of the nation, without its dependency on slavery. The freed slaves must find their place in the new society, and their rights and legal status must be determined. Violent controversy erupts in the South over how to tackle these issues. Stoneman and the Radical Republicans go to South Carolina to try to influence the votes of Southern blacks. The Ku Klux Klan is formed in response, who hunt down and lynch a murderous former slave, rescue the Cameron family from an attack by a negro militia, and effectively disenfranchise the black voters. The people depicted throughout the film as the "true enemy," though, are mulattoes -- those of mixed white and negro ancestry, who will stop at nothing to bring the white man down.

Being one of the first feature films ever, ''The Birth of a Nation'' introduced, refined, and popularized zillions of tropes, and is considered one of the most groundbreaking films ever. But it is also extremely controversial - its view of Reconstruction is one that promotes white supremacy, loathsomely demonizes black Americans (especially [[MixedAncestry biracial black-white people]]), and glorifies the KKK. In fact, the KKK had a ''huge'' revival in the years after this was released (it numbered around '''6 million members''' at its peak around 1925), and many people credit this movie as one of the reasons why.

This was the first feature-length movie to be screened at the White House. The President was UsefulNotes/WoodrowWilson, who used to teach at Princeton University and Thomas Dixon was one of his former students. It is widely told that, after seeing the picture, Wilson said "It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true." The truth is that he probably never said anything like that. Dixon and Griffith were so intent on making the movie a hit that they pretty much made up lies about celebrities and politicians endorsing it, including both Wilson and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and at one point Dixon even claimed the movie was "federally endorsed." In fact, that quote did not show up in print until after Wilson's death. Wilson actually had no idea what the movie was about before it was shown, and a few days later he released a press statement saying that he did not approve of the "unfortunate production." Though, for the record, part of the reason why the story is believed by so many people is that Wilson was [[ValuesDissonance racist even by his own time's standard]].

This film is in the public domain and can be viewed in its entirety on [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3kmVgQHIEY YouTube]] or even [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birth_of_a_Nation its article]] on [[Wiki/{{Wikipedia}} The Other Wiki]].
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!!This film provides examples of:

* AdaptationDistillation
* AdaptationalHeroism:
* AllIsWellThatEndsWell: For ''[[ValuesDissonance certain definitions]]'' of "ends well."
* AllThereIsToKnowAboutTheCryingGame: The climax of the film, where the Ku Klux Klan heroically rides into town to depose the corrupt mulatto Governor Lynch, is the most well-known (and infamous) moment. The average person could be forgiven for not knowing the Klan doesn't even appear until the second half, as the first half concerns the American Civil War.
* AndNowYouMustMarryMe: Silas Lynch has Elsie Stoneman BoundAndGagged and preparations made to forcibly wed her to him.
* AnimalMotifs: Flora Cameron is associated with squirrels. She likes to feed them, and like them, is energetic and enjoys the outdoors. This takes on a dark turn when Gus starts going after her, associating her with a prey animal.
* ArsonMurderAndJaywalking: The black villains [[AttemptedRape attempt rape]], [[AndNowYouMustMarryMe set up forced marriages]], and...eat and drink during a session of the state legislature.
* AttemptedRape: Gus tries to rape Flora Cameron.
* BeautyEqualsGoodness: Especially prevalent in the novel. All the heroes are beautiful; all the villains (except for Lydia Brown) are hideous.
* BestFriendsInLaw: The "chums", Ben Cameron and Phil Stoneman, end up as brothers in-law after marrying each other's sisters.
* BetterToDieThanBeKilled: Flora Cameron jumps off a cliff rather than be raped --sort of, see below-- by a freed slave
* BigBad: Silas Lynch.
* BigDamnHeroes: The Ku Klux Klan [[ValuesDissonance in-universe]], riding on horseback to rescue Elsie Stoneman from a forced marriage to Silas Lynch.
* BindleStick: Justified. Carpetbaggers really did carry these.
* BlackAndWhiteMorality: Literally. In the Reconstruction chapter, the villains are vengeful, scheming, manipulative, corrupt politicians who use freed slaves and militia to terrorize the former Southern aristocracy. The heroes, the KKK are [[KnightInShiningArmor Knights in Shining Armour]] who at the end intimidate part of society into not voting. People don't consider this film racist for nothing.
* {{Blackface}}: Unsurprisingly, there were few black actors who played the black roles in this film. The rest were filled in by white actors wearing ''glaringly'' obvious makeup. (Even in its racist heyday, blackface makeup was supposed to create a clownish caricature that no one would believe was a real black person; Griffith must not have thought much of his audience's powers of perception.)
** In truth, Gus, Flora's would-be rapist, comes across more as an unwashed (white) coal miner than as a truly black man.
* BoundAndGagged: A [[DamselInDistress white woman]], of course.
* {{Bowdlerise}}: In the original novel, Gus succeeds in raping [[ILetGwenStacyDie Marion Lenoir]], Ben's childhood sweetheart.
* CategoryTraitor: The Radical Republicans are implied to have betrayed the white race, especially with Stoneman himself having an extramarital affair with a black woman - leading him to give power to the evil mulatto who later try to rape his daughter.
* TheCavalry: Every single shot of cavalry riding to the rescue in every western, ever, is merely a copy of one of the zillion shots of the Klan riding to the rescue in this film.
* ChangedMyMindKid
* CloseupOnHead
* ContinuityEditing: D.W. Griffith practically '''defined''' continuity editing with movies like this.
* DamselInDistress: Flora Cameron and later, Elsie Stoneman. In the book, Marion Lenoir and her mother, Jeanine.
* DefiledForever
* DividedStatesOfAmerica
* DoubleInLawMarriage: See BestFriendsInLaw above.
* DragonWithAnAgenda: Silas Lynch works for Austin Stoneman in attempting to destroy the South, but he has a different agenda: forging a "black empire."
* DrinkingOnDuty: Some black politicians are seen boozing it up while attending a session of the State Legislature.
* EpicMovie: Probably [[UrExample the first ever]], though it is preceded by ''Cabiria'' by Giovanni Pastrone which like this film, was played at the White House.
* EvenEvilHasStandards: [[ValuesDissonance In-universe.]] When Silas Lynch first informs his mentor, Austin Stoneman, of his intention to marry a white woman, Austin Stoneman is initially congratulatory... until Silas specifies the white woman to be Stoneman's own daughter, Elsie.
* EvilCripple: Austin Stoneman.
* {{Expy}}:
** Austin Stoneman is a stand-in for Thaddeus Stevens, the leader of the Radical Republicans.
** Ben Cameron as an ex-Confederate soldier who forms the Klan to protect Southern virtue is one for Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
* FairForItsDay: Invoked in the intro to the second part, but fails into aversion. Even during the "[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nadir_of_American_race_relations Nadir of American race relations]]" it was considered racist.
* TheFilmOfTheBook: ''The Clansman'' by Thomas Dixon.
* FramedSubject
* GenkiGirl: Flora
* GenreBusting: Griffith essentially codified aspects of TheWestern, emerging theatre and vaudeville, into a single whole and invented the EpicMovie format of the blockbuster. The idea of telling a story on a vast canvas through a single family was borrowed from the novel, while the film's acting style was pared down from theatre to the realistic requirements of the film medium, the film's action scenes also greatly advanced and impacted the war movie and TheWestern genre.
* GoldenMeanFallacy: This movie tries so desperately to be neutral that it becomes monstrous. Siding neither with slavery nor with the "extremists" who want actual race equality, it supports the "neutral middle ground" of Jim Crow laws. The filmmakers seem to have thought that making Lincoln a sympathetic character and including an [[NeverMessWithGranny ass-kicking black heroine]] weighs up making the Ku Klux Klan heroes of the story.
* GrievousHarmWithABody: One of the Ku-Kluxers clobbers several black guys with one of their friends. The way the man being swung as a club flops about indicates that Senator Stoneman isn't the only [[StrawCharacter straw man]] in this film.
* HappinessInSlavery: The real reason why [[BelievingTheirOwnLies Griffith kept insisting his film wasn't racist]] was that he had "positive" black characters: those who stayed with their former owners during Reconstruction. These were mostly house servants and nursemaids, who really did have comfortable lives; but the vast majority of black slaves were field hands, who barely even saw their masters and who lived like, well, slaves.
** There are also various free blacks who say that they don't want the right to vote, and who argue against freedmen who join the Union Army or work for the Freedmen's Bureau. There were probably some of these historically, but not exactly a large number.
* HistoricalBadassUpgrade: The Klan.
** The Klan killed about 3,000 people over the course of its existence. This is quite a lot, but it's not nearly as many as Gettysburg (which the movie claims; for reference, 46,000 soldiers died there -- 23,055 from the Union, 23,231 from the Confederacy).
** The Klan specialized in assassinations and low-intensity guerrilla tactics. They took potshots at their enemies, but never launched full cavalry charges -- and never had sufficient numbers to launch such charges. ({{Literature/GoneWithTheWind}} has a much more realistic depiction of Klan activity -- including the part where the Klansmen are all plantation aristocracy.)
** The film shows the KKK defeating the Union Army; in fact, the Union Army defeated the Klan, when President UsefulNotes/UlyssesSGrant sent in heavy reinforcements once the Klan started scoring some successes. (Reconstruction ended shortly afterwards, in 1876-77, when Democratic delegates secured the withdrawal of US troops from their territory in exchange for allowing Rutherford B. Hayes' election as President to proceed smoothly.)
* HistoricalHeroUpgrade: The Klan; and, indeed, the CSA, which picked a fight when the North was inclined to let them go peacefully, and which committed war crimes over the course of the war (especially giving no quarter against black US troops, and selling free black POWs into slavery).
* HistoricalVillainUpgrade: Thaddeus Stevens and Lydia Hamilton Smith were not mustache-twirling villains; nor was Stevens a corrupt hypocrite; nor were the Carpetbaggers and Scalawags intent on transforming the South into a mulatto empire. The worst that can be said of the Carpetbaggers is that they wanted to turn the South into Massachusetts.
* HollywoodDarkness: Via use of tints (standard for silent films before colour).
* AnInsert: Pretty much required in silent movies with sophisticated plots.
* InTheHood: The KKK wear white hoods partly to disguise their identities.
* InUniverseCamera
* TheKlan: This was one of the earliest films ever, and portrayed the KKK as heroes.
* LesCollaborateurs: Carpetbaggers, Scalawags, and freedmen. From the Southern aristocracy's perspective, this really is what they were, but an outside observer might think of [[LaResistance another trope]].
* LightIsGood: The KKK from the film's perspective.
* LightIsNotGood: The KKK from the viewer's perspective. (Even, again, viewers at the time!)
* LoveAtFirstSight: For both of our couples.
** LoveBeforeFirstSight on Ben Cameron's part for Elsie Stoneman, though. Like a proto-[[Film/TheTerminator Kyle Reese]], he acquires a picture of her from her brother Phil and throughout his military career, he holds on to it and looks at it on a regular basis before he finally meets her.
--->'''Ben Cameron''': Though we had never met, I have carried you about with me for a long, long time.
* MaleGaze: A Union hospital guard takes a long look at Gish after she passes by him to visit her convalescing boyfriend.
* {{Melodrama}}: Especially in the second half.
* MoralMyopia: Austin Stoneman has no problem with interracial marriage... until Silas says he wants to marry his daughter.
* TheMountainsOfIllinois: At the end of the film, Ben and Elise are sitting on a bluff overlooking the ocean. There are no bluffs on the coastline of South Carolina.
* MyEyesAreUpHere: Some of the KKK robes have a pair of large circles with crosses in them at chest height.
* NeverMessWithGranny: In ''The Birth of a Nation'', we have an overweight elderly housekeeper leap into action and save her employer, knocking down at least one ruffian and two soldiers in the process. Interesting for a white supremacist racist work, the heroine is black and the man she's saving is white. It was a [[ValuesDissonance common belief at the time, and certainly Griffith's as a Southern whites]], that African-Americans had been [[HappinessInSlavery better off, and happier, as slaves]], until they were "stirred up" by Northern interlopers. This viewpoint was later internalized by Northern politicians who weren't too keen on giving African-Americans the vote so they started buying into the "Lost Cause" view as well. A scene of a black woman leaping to the defense of her beloved employer/master was more acceptable than an African-American judge or soldier (who are shown as cackling villains in the film).
* {{Ojou}}: Elsie and the Cameron sisters, at least at first.
* PleaseSpareHimMyLiege: Mother Cameron to Abraham Lincoln, on Ben's behalf.
* PoirotSpeak: "Dem free-niggers f'um de N'of um so' crazy".
* PoliceAreUseless: Justified in that the Radical Republicans, more or less, own the police.
* ThePollyanna: Flora Cameron, during the Civil War half.
* RapeAsDrama
* ReasonableAuthorityFigure: Abraham Lincoln who wants a peaceful reunification, the one thing in the film that is more or less accurate. This is of course consistent with the Dunning view which managed to be pro-Lincoln and anti-Reconstruction. In actual fact, Lincoln at the time of his death voiced public support for black suffrage, which was the trigger for Booth to murder him.
* "Music/RideOfTheValkyries": Used when the Klansmen ride to the rescue at the climax.
* ScaryBlackMan: Gus.
** And an even scarier biracial, Silas Lynch.
* SouthernBelle: Mrs. Cameron and her daughters, Margaret and Flora.
* StockFootage: Documentaries and such sometimes use this film's conveniently PublicDomain footage to illustrate Civil War fighting or the Lincoln assassination. Those scenes, at least, are reasonably accurate.
* TokenEnemyMinority: The Cameron's servants are portrayed in a positive light, despite being black.
* TheVamp: Lydia Brown.
* VillainousCrush: Silas has a powerful one on Elsie.
* VigilanteExecution: Gus gets lynched by the Klan and his corpse deposited on Silas Lynch's porch as a warning. This is portrayed not as pseudo-judicial murder, but as justice being served.
* WarIsHell: The terrible human cost of the war is constantly emphasized, if only because it was between whites.
* WhereDaWhiteWomenAt: Sort of. Both Silas Lynch and Gus want White women but the women don't exactly return their feelings.
* WhiteMansBurden: Played to some extent really horribly, with Austin Stoneman's [[ScaryBlackMan mulatto protégé Silas]].
* WrittenByTheWinners: Both inverted and played straight. The film is written from the Southern upper class's perspective, and they lost the war -- but they won the peace, at the expense of Southern blacks (and of poor Southern whites, who don't really figure in this film).
* YourTerroristsAreOurFreedomFighters: The UsefulNotes/KuKluxKlan are promoted in the film as vigilante heroes rising to protect the South from the Northern invaders and LesCollaborateurs.

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