D. W. GriffithÆs classic film Birth of a Nation revolves around the Civil War and American society in the aftermath of the War. While many claim that the negative depiction of blacks, including the Ku Klux Klan being painted as the saviors of whites, is racist, others argue the film is historically accurate. One of these others was President Woodrow Wilson, who lamented upon viewing the film, ôIt is like writing history with Lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly trueö (Ebert 3/2003, p. 1). Allegedly based on actual histories of the period, there is no denying that African Americans would be offended by viewing this film, one that depicts them as a threat to white Americans and even America itself.
From the beginning of Birth of a Nation, we are informed outright that its subject will encompass the tensions between African Americans and whites during the Civil War and post-bellum periods of American history. As we are told in no uncertain terms at the outset of the film, ôThe bringing of the African to America planted the first seed of disunionö (Griffith, 1915). The film shows numerous scenes where the message is clear that whites and blacks should remain separated. Such films went a long way toward fostering the mindset of segregation that would remain entrenched in American society until Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
If we examine one scene of the film, we can readily see that African Americans viewing the film would not only be offended but realize that whitesÆ fear of skin color contributed to the prejudice and racism so prevalent in American society during this era. Flora is one of the youngest characters in the film. A white girl, the dramatic scene of her being pursued through the woods by a black man, as her older brother, Ben, tries to save her. Faced with the prospect of losing her ôhonorö to a black man, Flora instead chooses to leap to her deat