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YMMV: The Birth of a Nation

  • Crosses the Line Twice: This is the unintended reaction of many modern viewers. The racism is so extreme that it's ridiculous—and pretty darn funny.
    • To the point where the film ends with the KKK intimidating black voters away from the polls. This is supposed to be a Happy Ending.
  • Culture Blind: Griffith. He just didn't realize what an atrocity he was creating, because as a Southerner born and bred it was what he had grown up with. He was already deeply hooked on the "Cavalry to the Rescue" trope, and the only "cavalry" available was....
  • Designated Hero: Ben and the rest of the Ku Klux Klan.
  • Family-Unfriendly Aesop: No kidding.
    • This is actually a rather strange case. Notice how at the beginning of the film it says that the characteristics applied to certain races don’t necessarily apply anymore, and how the director strongly denied that it was racist? You could also interpret the film as saying that you shouldn’t grant a lot of responsibility to people who are grossly unprepared for it.
  • First Installment Wins: The film had a sequel called The Fall of a Nation, which is probably the first movie sequel in history. It did not involve Griffith or any of the original cast, but was rather directed by Thomas Dixon, the author of the original novel. The film is set in the near future and depicts the U.S. being invaded by a German-dominated Europe. Basically, the film was a plea for the U.S. to enter World War I and stop Germany before it's too late. The Fall of a Nation was a commercial failure and there are no known surviving prints. You might be able to track down a copy of the book it was based on.
  • Moment Of Awesome: Unintentional, but watch the scene where Silas Lynch enters Stoneman's office where everybody but him is white. Stoneman tells Silas Lynch he doesn't have to bow and that he is the equal of any man in the room.
  • Never Live It Down: This pretty much permanently tainted DW Griffith's career and legacy. His incredible, revolutionary work is practically unimportant. Strangely his career actually improved upon making this.
  • Old Shame: In a meta-example, the movie is this for the entire movie industry, especially the American one.
  • Purity Sue: Elsie Stoneman, Flora Cameron (Marion Lenoir in the book), and Margaret Cameron.
  • True Art Is Ancient: Subverted. You'll be struggling hard to find someone who praises the movie without adding a lengthy disclaimer that they don't agree with its message.
  • Uncanny Valley: Some of the "black" characters in the second part of the film almost fall into this territory due to the extensive use of Blackface. The eyes and eyebrows on some performers in particular look disturbingly out of place.
  • Unfortunate Implications: Despite being rife with those, Griffith tried to defy this by claiming in the beginning of the film that the portrayal of different races was no longer applicable. The film’s main message could, in fact, be interpreted in light of this as ‘don’t give a tonne of responsibility to people who are grossly unprepared for it’ rather than ‘free black people are a menace’, but if that was indeed Griffith’s intention, he apparently did an awful job at it.
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic: We're supposed to take it for granted that Gus is trying to rape Flora (he was stalking her, though), but all we actually see him doing is asking her to marry him, after which she promptly jumps off a cliff. This makes it hard not to feel sorry for him, Scary Black Man or not, especially given his punishment.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: Austin Stoneman's horrified reaction to Silas wanting to marry his daughter is intended to be an Even Evil Has Standards moment but to modern audiences it actually makes him seem worse by revealing him to be a gigantic hypocrite.
  • Values Dissonance: Though not to the degree one would expect, since both the film and the book it was based on were denounced as racist even at the time


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