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'The Birth of a Nation': A Century Later


'The Birth of a Nation': A Century Later

William Loren Katz

By an odd coincidence the first week of Black History Month this February, Time magazine ran an article on the 100th anniversary of the first public showing of the movie classic The Birth of a Nation. This 22-reel, 3-hour and 10 minute silent film was Hollywood’s first blockbuster, first great historical epic, first full-length film (when most ran for minutes not hours), and first to introduce modern cinematic techniques that still keep audiences enthralled.


Apparently Woodrow Wilson kept repeating… “It’s so true. It really is!” after his first screening of the movie. Wilson, an ignorant bigot as well, only rose to fame after the father of consumerism, Edward Bernays, successfully portrayed Wilson as the “savior of Europe” with his post-war visit there. But in fact it was precisely because of people like Woodrow Wilson, that African Americans continued to be persecuted.
Today the persecution has taken a different approach with the introduction of mass incarceration, the disenfranchisement of African-American voters and the stigma of a criminal record for pretty much every African American male who reaches the age of 18. But because African-Americans make up such a tiny percentage of the populace (11%), the discrimination will continue unabated as long as corporate fundamentalists control our government and our airwaves.
The new boogeyman is of course the Muslim which is suppose to bring a little bit of comfort to African-Americans as they’re now one notch up on the proverbial totem pole of class consciousness. But this divide and conquer strategy has been quite effective in redirecting the struggle for equal rights to the back burner as we collectively engage the enemy du jour. After all, is American Sniper any less racist than “Birth of a Nation”. It may just appear to be a superior form of propaganda, but Birth of a Nation was just as convincing at developing a false narrative as it’s modern day contemporary version. People in the White House at their private viewing of American Sniper probably also commented to others in the auditorium… “It’s so true! It really is!”


Did the White House actually have a private screening of American Sniper?


D W Griffith’s, “The Birth of a Nation”, should be preserved for the same reasons that Lani Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” about Adolph Hitler’s appearance and speech at the infamous 1936 Nurmberg rally:
Both films are landmark artistic achievements for their time,
Both films are filled with lies and distortions of the actual history that they portray,
Both films can and should be shown as exemplars of the mood of large segments of the general public at the time they premiered. They are living time capsules of history.
Today we have such examples as Born on The Fourth of July, American Sniper, and the TV series 24 which are political propaganda disguised as entertainment and were/are similarly popular and received to wild acclaim when they premiered.


Born on the Fourth of July is an anti-war film… so why would you toss it into the hat with a CIA-nakedly funded and sponsored film like “American Sniper?”

Also, you miss the point on the role and power of the Propaganda film. It molds audiences’ tastes by setting up a sense of communal standards that’s manipulated through sound/music, flashing lights, and images that tweak the less conscious portals of the mind.

In other words, if people truly FELT the ways the films portrayed, there would be no NEED for Propaganda. After all, given the kind of money that pours into corporate PR (the business world’s version of propaganda) and that used to ensure an ongoing chain of foreign wars, the investment proves worthwhile… to those identified with foreign wars and/or the profits of disaster, by capitalistic means.


Thank you for proving my points (though that was not your intention). As the scriptures teach, “wisdom is justified of all her children” (Lu 7:35)


Poet, are you talking about a different “Born On The Fourth Of July” then the 1989 Oliver Stone anti-war film about Ron Kovic starring Tom Cruise?

If not I am very confused by your including it with right wing shows like “American Sniper” and “24.”

I know you responded to Siouxrose, who mentioned this, but I think you were only responding to the rest of her comment. But I do have to say, I didn’t get your point in response to Siouxrose either.

Could you explain your points more? Thanks. :smile:



I think maybe you are mixed up. “Born on the 4th of July” is an anti-war film directed by Oliver Stone. Wiki says:

Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 American drama war film adaptation of the best-selling autobiography of the same name by Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic.[2]

Tom Cruise plays Ron Kovic, in a performance that earned him his first Academy Award nomination. Oliver Stone (himself a Vietnam veteran) co-wrote the screenplay with Kovic, and also produced and directed the film. Stone wanted to film the movie in Vietnam, but because relations between the United States and Vietnam had not yet been normalized, it was instead filmed in the Philippines. The film is considered part of Stone’s “trilogy” of films about the Vietnam War—following Platoon (1986) and preceding Heaven & Earth (1993).

The victim, Ron Kovic, who is paralyzed, admits they wrongly killed civilians who had nothing to do with the war. Wiki says:

“After returning home drunk one night after having a barroom confrontation with a World War II veteran who expresses no sympathy to Ron, Ron’s disillusionment grows severe enough that he has an intense fight with his mother, yelling at her that there was no God and that they murdered civilians in Vietnam in disregard of Christian morals.”

Those Oliver Stone indictments of war are in sharp contrast to MIC pro-war propaganda movies like “O-Dark-Thirty” and “American Sniper” where no Trooper ever commits a war crime and only Heroes enlist who never question authority. Which no war is ever like. In the MIC war propaganda films, good guys are always the troopers getting revenge against screeching “rag-heads” like Chuck Norris always did.

Disclaimer: I haven’t seen American Sniper, but I watched the beginning of “O-Dark-Thirty” and had to turn it off, since it was clearly a commercial for recruiters.

I don’t see that SR “proved your points” in your exchange with her. Perhaps you would like to elaborate more clearly which point she is making for you?


The points are:

  1. The power of entertainment to be harnessed to the ends of those with a political agenda. (call it docudrame if you like!)
  2. The convenient glossing over of any facts to play to the instincts of the perceived audience.
  3. Its use by ALL of those with ANY political persuasion to mask their actual agenda (the promotion of their ideas as suitable entertainment.
    My inclusion of Born on the Fourth of July was deliberate and was intended to illustrate that this mischief infects all ends of the political spectrum. Many of Michael Moore’s movies are also prime candidates for the designation of propaganda cartoons.
    This has led to the likes of CNN (corporate --or if you are a right winger–communist news network) and Fox news which is nothing much more than an official mouthpiece for the Republican Party.
    The use of entertainment or journalism as a political polemic is not new and is, given the history of humanity, not about to go away. Therefore these (and other examples of same) should not be scorned–they should be studied and their point of view should be examined and dissected in the full light of the history that can be verified.
    Since it is Black History Month, let me give yet three more examples of propaganda disguising itself as legitimate history.
    The role of MLK Jr. in the Montgomery bus boycott pretty much ignores the pivotal role of the NAACP in the promotion of such a strategy.
    The efforts of both the SNCC and the Black Panther Party in the awakening of African American political and social consciousness in the segregated South has been sacrificed on the altar of history in the name of promoting MLK Jr. to political sainthood.
    MLK Jr. was an important and historic figure. However, had there not been others who tilled the soil and planted the seeds and watered them with their own activity, there would have been little or no fruit for MLK Jr. to harvest. (The proof of this, by the way, is in his failed efforts in places like Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as other non-southern venues to attract the support to bring about changes there.
    Finally, the fact that Rosa Parks was not the first black woman in Montgomery AL to refuse to give her seat to a white person when ordered to do so. There were others who also were arrested for that offense before Rosa was, but they are all but forgotten in the official narratives of those times.
    The meta-lesson that should be learned is that we all have our prejudices and discriminate when it comes to what we believe and hold dear. While you are skewering the sacred cow of another you better take account of your own herd of such animals.