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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.''''"
->--'''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]]

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 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 and that 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 at [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEznh2JZvrI YouTube]].
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!!This film provides examples of:

* AdaptationDistillation
* AllIsWellThatEndsWell: Though whether it ends well or not depends a lot on your perspective
* AndNowYouMustMarryMe: Silas Lynch has Elsie Stoneman BoundAndGagged and preparations made to forcibly wed her to him.
* ArsonMurderAndJaywalking: The black villains [[AttemptedRape attempt rape]], [[AndNowYouMustMarryMe set up forced marriages]], and...eat and drink during a session of the state legislature.
* 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
* 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.
* EpicMovie: Probably [[UrExample the first ever]].
* 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.
* 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.
* FictionalCounterpart: Austin Stoneman is a stand-in for Thaddeus Stevens, a Radical Republican leader.
* TheFilmOfTheBook: ''The Clansman'' by Thomas Dixon.
* FramedSubject
* GenreBusting
* 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.
* HistoricalHeroUpgrade: The Ku Klux Klan, and how.
* HistoricalVillainUpgrade: Needless to say, Thaddeus Stevens and Lydia Hamilton Smith were not the mustache-twirling villains they're portrayed as.
* HollywoodNight
* 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.
* LightIsNotGood: Inverted; the KKK are the heroes in the film's climax, though they still come across to modern viewers as pretty rotten.
* LoveAtFirstSight: For both of our couples.
** LoveBeforeFirstSight on Ben Cameron's part for Elsie Stoneman, though. Like a proto-[[Franchise/{{Terminator}} 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.
* 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, at least among Southern whites]], that African-Americans had been [[HappinessInSlavery better off, and happier, as slaves]], until they were "stirred up" by Northern interlopers. A white supremacist racist work might easily see propagating that trope via a scene where a black woman leaps to the defense of her beloved employer/master as more important than portraying an individual white man's superiority over an individual black woman.
* NonRoyalPrincess: Elsie and the Cameron sisters, at least at first.
* 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
* "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.
* TheVamp: Lydia Brown.
* 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: Inverted; the film was written from the perspective of the ''losing side'' in the Civil War, and it certainly wasn't the most objective view of the Reconstruction Period.

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