The Birth of a Nation

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The Birth of a Nation (premiered with the title The Clansman) is a 1915 American silent film directed by D. W. Griffith. Set during and after the American Civil War, the film was based on Thomas Dixon's The Clansman, a novel and play.

The Birth of a Nation was the highest-grossing film of the silent film era, and is noted for its innovative camera techniques and narrative achievements. It has provoked great controversy for promoting white supremacy and positively portraying the "knights" of the Ku Klux Klan as heroes.[2]

Eric M. Armstrong of The Moving Arts Film Journal writes:[3]

The film was originally presented in two parts separated by an intermission.



Part 1: Pre-Civil War America

We are introduced to two juxtaposed families: the Northern Stonemans, consisting of abolitionist Congressman Austin Stoneman (based on real-life Reconstruction-era Congressman Thaddeus Stevens), his two sons, and his daughter, Elsie, and the Southern Camerons, a family including two daughters (Margaret and Flora) and three sons, most notably Ben.

The Stoneman boys visit the Camerons at their South Carolina estate, representing the Old South. The eldest Stoneman boy falls in love with Margaret Cameron, and Ben Cameron idolizes a picture of Elsie Stoneman. When the Civil War begins, all the young men join their respective armies. A black militia (with a white leader) ransacks the Cameron house. The Cameron women are rescued when Confederate soldiers rout the militia. Meanwhile, the youngest Stoneman and two Cameron boys are killed in the war. Ben Cameron is wounded after a heroic battle in which he gains the nickname, "the Little Colonel," by which he is referred to for the rest of the film. The Little Colonel is taken to a Northern hospital where he meets Elsie, who is working there as a nurse. In the hospital, Cameron is accused of being a guerilla outlaw and is told that he will be hanged. Elsie encourages Cameron's mother, who has traveled to Washington to see her son, to ask Abraham Lincoln to grant a pardon. Elsie and Mrs. Cameron visit the White House and convince Lincoln to issue the pardon. The war ends and Abraham Lincoln is assassinated at Ford's Theater, allowing Austin Stoneman and other radical congressmen to punish the South for secession, using radical measures Griffith depicts as typical of the Reconstruction era.[4]

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