The Birth of a Nation

Roger Ebert wrote of the challenge of viewing this film in contemporary times, “All serious moviegoers must sooner or later arrive at a point where they see a film for what it is, and not simply for what they feel about it.” I’m sympathetic to this view because I believe that to ignore racism and its deep roots in our shared history is to license its proliferation.

As a movie watching experience, “Birth” remains a stunning innovator of its craft. There are scenes of such scale and magnitude that even today’s filmmakers would struggle with them, and the vocabulary of storytelling is remarkably mature. 

For these things it can’t be ignored, even though its narrative and characters are odious. If nothing else, “The Birth of a Nation” demonstrates how fear and racism and an inhuman view of your fellow man can complement so powerfully new kinds of media. And it shows how racism is intimately threaded into the blueprint of modern film. It’s hideous and cowardly throughout, full of lies and distortions. In retrospect it seems obvious that’s exactly why it succeeded so wildly.