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The Walter White Project

Randy Stakeman, Jackson Stakeman, Authors

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Birth of a Nation (1915)

"Birth of a Nation" was a milestone in cinematic history. In it D.W. Griffith created many of the cinematic tropes, techniques and processes which were to infuse cinema for all time. More importantly it was to use cinema to create a reality for its viewers which was so undeniably true that it permeated the reality of viewers long beyond its viewing time. It was in the famous words of Woodrow Wilson, "History written by lightning." Unfortunately the history it created was a false one. Based on the novel and stage play "The Klansman" by Thomas Dixon, it was nostalgic fictional account of a South and a plantation society that never was. Written decades after the Civil War it paints a picture of a rosy plantation life where African Americans are childlike laborers and contented slaves while masters were kindly and paternalistic. In the film this idyllic world was disrupted by the North which tried to make African Americans something that they were not: full fledged human beings. Tragedy ensues as African Americans are not yet ready to assume full status in civilized society and their animalistic nature is a threat to white civilized society.

In this First Clip we see the contented, childlike slaves who after a hard day of work in the fields are happy to dance for their master and his friends. The Second Clip purports to show what will happen if African Americans ever gain elected office.  These images are key to keeping African Americans out of politics and under white domination.

The NAACP immediately saw this film as presenting an image of the "Old Negro," which would prevent any progress in the political, economic and judicial systems of the nation. They vehemently opposed it, protested against it and demonstrated at showings of it. Yet it was accepted as "history" by a majority of whites and continued to set the standard for African American portrayals in the movies until the 1960's.

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