D.W. Griffith’s landmark film Birth of a Nation is one of the most controversial motion pictures of all time. To some, Birth of a Nation is overtly racist, and to others it is a groundbreaking masterpiece. The film thematically explores two great American issues: inter-racial sex and marriage, and the empowerment of blacks during the Reconstruction Era. Birth of a Nation tells the story of the Civil War and its aftermath, as seen through the eyes of two families, the Stonemans and the Camerons. When war breaks out, the Stonemans join the Union, while the Camerons enlist in the Confederate army. After the war, Ben Cameron organizes a secret society called the Ku Klux Klan to protect the South from corrupt rule under carpetbaggers and blacks. When the South is under siege by black mobs and sympathizers, the KKK rides in heroically in order to defend white womanhood, white honor, and white glory. Birth of a Nation is both a prejudicial perspective on history and a glorification of the KKK, but it is also, undeniably, a masterwork with significant advancements in cinema for its time.
by Lyndsey Collins