Monday, January 27, 2014
... last night I found it among the offerings on NetFlix under classic films, and finally sat myself down to view it in its entirety; and what an experience it was! I cannot imagine how the country survived the Woodrow Wilson administration. And if you've never read Ann Hagedorn's Savage Peace, you've missed a most harrowing description of the era just after WWI which was 1919.
When D.W. Griffith's ambitious film The Birth of a Nation came out in 1915, Wilson not only agreed to have a private showing at the White House but afterward expressed how fascinated he was by it. "The White men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation ... until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South to protect the Southern country." (a direct quote by Wilson.)
Had I taken the time to view the original prior to seeing Miller's adaptation, I might have come away with more than I did at the time. I was puzzled by much of it, but attributed it to being of another generation with little to bring to a Hip Hop treatment of the material. After seeing Griffith's wildly provocative work, it seems unlikely that anyone could successfully satirize it in any way. The black-faced (white) grinning, jigging, "negroes", alone, should have barred the film from serious consideration for the acclaim it enjoyed at the time.
Find myself wondering if Birth of a Nation shouldn't be required viewing by every high school student -- along with the reading of The Warmth of Many Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson? Together, the two works provide powerful contrasting lessons in our nation's great narrative, and a foundation against which to measure just how much progress we've made over the past century; and perhaps a way forward into a more compassionate future.
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