birth-movement-grab-sig-1918x830Coming to PBS’s Independent Lens this coming Monday, February 6:

Susan Gray & Bestor Cram

Independent Lens (February 2017)

An African-American newspaper editor led a civil rights struggle against DW Griffith’s THE BIRTH OF A NATION.

In 1915, Griffith’s epic became a box office sensation, heralded as a new achievement in the still nascent medium of film, and drew praise from President Woodrow Wilson, who viewed it in the White House – the first motion picture ever screened there. Based on Thomas Dixon’s THE CLANSMAN, the film offered a shameful, revisionist history of the American South that portrayed African American men as subhuman rapists of white women and positioned the Ku Klux Klan as heroes, helping spur on a resurgence for the racist organization. Recognizing its divisiveness, theatres banned African Americans from attending screenings in places like Boston, where William Monroe Trotter was editor of the Boston Guardian, an independent African-American newspaper. Trotter, Harvard’s first Phi Beta Kappa and a contemporary of WEB Dubois, decried the appeasement to Jim Crow championed by Booker T Washington, and was an early supporter of the NAACP and its push for equality. As detailed in Gray and Cram’s engaging film, when THE CLANSMAN came to Boston as a play in 1910, Trotter used his connections to shut down its production, but when he later took on the film adaptation, his calls for censorship proved more challenging. Despite this, Trotter did succeed in mobilizing his fellow African Americans to take a stand, serving as a precursor to later civil rights struggles and underscoring the power of media representation to influence public perception, for good and for ill.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Recommendations, Releases

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