GM – FBF – Today’s American Tragedy is a 1915 American silent drama film directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish.

GM – FBF – Today’s American Tragedy is a 1915 American silent drama film directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish. The screenplay is adapted from Thomas Dixon Jr.’s 1905 novel and play The Clansman. Griffith co-wrote the screenplay with Frank E. Woods and produced the film with Harry Aitken.The Birth of a Nation is a landmark of film history. It was the first 12-reel film ever made and, at three hours, also the longest up to that point. Its plot, part fiction and part history, chronicling the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth and the relationship of two families in the Civil War and Reconstruction eras over the course of several years—the pro-Union (Northern) Stonemans and the pro-Confederacy (Southern) Camerons—was by far the most complex of any movie made up to that date. It was originally shown in two parts separated by another movie innovation, an intermission, and it was the first to have a musical score for an orchestra. It pioneered close-ups, fade-outs, and a carefully staged battle sequence with hundreds of extras (another first) made to look like thousands. It came with a 13-page “Souvenir Program”. It was the first American motion picture to be screened in the White House, viewed there by President Woodrow Wilson.The film was controversial even before its release and has remained so ever since; it has been called “the most controversial film ever made in the United States”. Lincoln is portrayed positively, unusual for a narrative that promotes the Lost Cause ideology. The film portrays African Americans (many of whom are played by white actors in blackface) as unintelligent and sexually aggressive toward white women. The film presents the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as a heroic force necessary to preserve American values and a white supremacist social order. In response to the film’s depictions of black people and Civil War history, African Americans across the nation organized and participated in protests against The Birth of a Nation. In places such as in Boston where thousands of white people viewed the film, black leaders tried to have it banned on the basis that it inflamed racial tensions and could incite violence. The NAACP spearheaded an unsuccessful campaign to ban the film. Griffith’s indignation at efforts to censor or ban the film motinated him to produce Intolerance the following year. In spite of its divisiveness, The Birth of a Nation was a huge commercial success and profoundly influenced both the film industry and American culture. The film has been acknowledged as an inspiration for the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, which took place only a few months after its release. In 1992, the Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. Today in our History – August 27, 2015 – The NPR Staff Critic, 100 Years Later, What’s The Legacy Of ‘Birth Of A Nation’?As the house lights dimmed and the orchestra struck up the score, a message from director D.W. Griffith flickered on the screen: “This is an historical presentation of the Civil War and Reconstruction Period, and is not meant to reflect on any race or people of today.”But its effects on race relations were devastating, and reverberations are still felt to this day.The Birth of a Nation is three hours of racist propaganda — starting with the Civil War and ending with the Ku Klux Klan riding in to save the South from black rule during the Reconstruction era.”[Griffith] portrayed the emancipated slaves as heathens, as unworthy of being free, as uncivilized, as primarily concerned with passing laws so they could marry white women and prey on them,” Dick Lehr, author of The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and a Crusading Editor Reignited America’s Civil War, tells NPR’s Arun Rath.At the time, much of the storyline was accepted as historically accurate.”Griffith thought he was, in a way, reporting history about the Civil War and Reconstruction, and it was widely accepted at the time — which has been completely debunked since — that Reconstruction was a disaster … and that former slaves were some kind of lower form of life,” Lehr says.”That was the embedded, bigoted, racist state of mind of the time.”Griffith, looking at what he saw as history, was motivated by artistic ambition, Lehr says.”He wanted to do something very big,” says Lehr. “He was a man of the South from Kentucky. His father had fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. What bigger story to tell as a breakout, epic film than the story of America’s Civil War and its aftermath?”Griffith’s understanding of the past was based on a twisted account, and today it’s easy to imagine that a movie like his would flop and be forgotten. But The Birth of a Nation, far from falling into oblivion, led to the birth of Hollywood.Lehr says the film was the Avatar or Star Wars of 1915: It was a runaway hit.After the first screening in Los Angeles, the film got a big thumbs-up. “The critics were raving. People were on their feet cheering at the climax of the film, when the Klan is seen as a healing force — restoring order to the chaos of the South during Reconstruction,” Lehr says. “They were in awe of seeing for the first time a feature film of this length. There’s one critic [who] said, ‘The worst thing about The Birth of a Nation is how good it is.’ “”There’s one critic [who] said, ‘The worst thing about “The Birth of a Nation” is how good it is.’ “The film’s initial success drowned out the voices of those who tried to protest. The civil rights movement was still quite young at the time; the NAACP had just incorporated a few years earlier. So the Los Angeles screenings were successful in spite of the outrage, as were New York City’s. It even became the first movie ever to be screened at the White House. Woodrow Wilson reportedly called it “history written in lightning.”But in Boston, newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter organized protests that involved the Boston branch of the NAACP. He organized mass demonstrations where several thousand protesters, mostly black, turned out to say the film was not accurate.Trotter was arrested at a demonstration in front of a theater where the movie was playing.”For me, as an author and a researcher reconstructing this great drama,” Lehr says, “I kept scratching my head going, ‘What year is this?!’ This is 1915, but it’s so 1960-ish in terms of its protest strategy.”Despite the protests, the Boston screenings did go on as scheduled — but the protesters set a template for other cities to follow.After Boston, theater owners in other towns demanded significant edits to the film before they’d screen it; in other places, it was banned outright. Research more about this great American Tragedy and share it with your babies. Make it a champion day!