The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation

The Cinematic Past in the Present
Edited by Michael T. Martin
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 04/24/2019
Format: Paperback 72 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-04235-4
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Over one hundred years since it premiered on cinema screens, D. W. Griffith's controversial photoplay The Birth of a Nation continues to influence American film production and to have relevance for race relations in the United States. While lauded at the time of its release for its visual and narrative innovations and a box office hit with film audiences, it provoked African American protest in 1915 for racially offensive content. In this collection of essays, contributors explore Griffith's film as text, artifact, and cultural legacy and place it into both the historical and transnational contexts of the first half of the 1900s and its resonances with current events in America, such as #BlackLivesMatter, #HollywoodSoWhite, and #OscarsSoWhite movements. Through studies of the film's reception, formal innovations in visual storytelling, and comparisons with contemporary movies, this work challenges the idea the United States has moved beyond racial problems and highlights the role of film and representation in the continued struggle for equality.

Author Bio

Michael T. Martin is Professor of Cinema and Media Studies in the Media School at Indiana University and Editor-in-Chief of Black Camera: An International Film Journal. He is editor (with David C. Wall and Marilyn Yaquinto) of Race and the Revolutionary Impulse in The Spook Who Sat by the Door and editor (with David C. Wall) of The Politics and Poetics of Black Film: Nothing But a Man.



An extremely important contribution to scholarship with excellent essays across a range of views on the film's importance and historical, genre, and cultural resonances. . . . It distinguishes itself from other collections of essays on The Birth of a Nation by its discussion of the film in relation to current race relations, its transnational scope, and its multi-leveled discussion of the way the film was watched both by its supporters and its critics.


 (Alan Rice, author of Creating Memorials, Building Identities: The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic)


With this volume, Michael T. Martin offers a compelling reassessment of The Birth of a Nation that not only offers original scholarship on various aspects of its exhibition, reception, and formal properties, but pushes the inquiry into the present, looking at contemporary films through the long shadow of Griffith's epic of racism and national division.


 (Allyson Nadia Field, author of Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film & The Possibility of Black Modernity)

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Table of Contents



Introduction: Revisiting [As it Were] the "Negro Problem" in The Birth of a Nation: Looking Back and in the Present / Michael T. Martin

Part I: National/Transnational in Historical Time

1. Birth of a Nation's Long Century / Cara Caddoo

2. Great Moments From The Birth of a Nation: Collecting and Privately Screening Small Gauge Versions / Andy Uhrich

3. D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation: Transnational and Historical Perspectives / Melvyn Stokes

4. Defining National Identity: The Birth of a Nation From America to South Africa / Peter Davis

5. Is Birth of a Nation a Western? / Alex Lichtenstein

Part II: Representational and Rhetorical Strategies

6. Serial Melodramas of Black and White: The Birth of a Nation and Within Our Gates / Linda Williams

7. The Rhetoric of Historical Representation in Griffith's The Birth of a Nation / Lawrence Howe

Part III: Cinematic Iterations in the Present

8. Something Else Besides a Western: Django Unchained's Generic Miscegenations / Paula Massood

9. 12 Years a Slave and The Birth of a Nation: Two Moments in Representing Race / Julia Lesage

10. Engineering Different Equations in the Wake of Birth of a Nation: Blackface and Racial Politics in Bamboozled and Dear White People / Anne-Marie Paquet-Deyris

11. Race, Space, Sexuality, and Suffering in The Birth of a Nation and Get Hard / David C. Wall

12. Anger or Laughter? The Dialectics of Response in The Birth of a Nation / Chuck Kleinhans