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The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

tomatometer

100

Average Rating: 8/10
Reviews Counted: 38
Fresh: 38 | Rotten: 0

Racial depictions aside, The Birth of a Nation is a landmark film whose achievements and pioneering techniques remain fully relevant today.

100

Average Rating: 8/10
Critic Reviews: 6
Fresh: 6 | Rotten: 0

Racial depictions aside, The Birth of a Nation is a landmark film whose achievements and pioneering techniques remain fully relevant today.

audience

57

liked it
Average Rating: 3.2/5
User Ratings: 4,124

My Rating

Movie Info

The most successful and artistically advanced film of its time, The Birth of a Nation has also sparked protests, riots, and divisiveness since its first release. The film tells the story of the Civil War and its aftermath, as seen through the eyes of two families. The Stonemans hail from the North, the Camerons from the South. When war breaks out, the Stonemans cast their lot with the Union, while the Camerons are loyal to Dixie. After the war, Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall), distressed that

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Drama, Classics

Frank Woods, D.W. Griffith

Jun 29, 2004

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February 1, 2006:
SUNDANCE: A Filmmaker Makes His Pitch
Not everyone who comes to Sundance is a movie star, cinephile or studio head. Some, like filmmaker...

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All Critics (38) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (38) | Rotten (0) | DVD (7)

Problematically, Birth of a Nation wasn't just a seminal commercial spectacle but also a decisively original work of art -- in effect, the founding work of cinematic realism, albeit a work that was developed to pass lies off as reality.

August 19, 2013 Full Review Source: New Yorker
New Yorker
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Birth of a Nation is a great epoch in picture making; it's great for pictures and it's great for the name and fame of David Wark Griffith. When a man like Griffith in a new field can do what he has done, he may as well be hailed while he is living.

February 6, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
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Griffith's later films are unquestionably superior. But here, in a very real sense, is where the movies began, both as an art and as a business.

February 6, 2008 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
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The civil war battle pictures, taken in panorama, represent enormous effort and achieve a striking degree of success.

March 25, 2006 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The biggest challenge the film provided for its audiences is perhaps to decide when 'ground-breaking, dedicated, serious cinematic art' must be reviled as politically reprehensible.

February 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It is an unavoidable fact of American movie history, and must be dealt with.

April 20, 2003 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The quasi-Victorian Griffith was in so many respects way ahead of his time even if his philosophy and mind-set could often be said to be behind it.

August 19, 2013 Full Review Source: Guardian
Guardian

A towering milestone in the history of cinema. Asentimentalised, reactionary slab of racism. Can a film be both? In the case of D.W. Griffith's silent-era classic The Birth Of A Nation, unfortunately it can.

August 19, 2013 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

The Birth of a Nation has become a staple of any film studies course, for its excellent performances, thrilling action sequences and epic landscapes. However it's subject matter is much more controversial now.

August 19, 2013 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

This is an impressive spectacle, rightfully lauded for its myriad innovations. But the sentiments it expresses are pretty damn ugly.

August 19, 2013 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

It's hard to applaud a film where the Ku Klux Klan rides triumphantly to the rescue, and this, alas, undoes all the sterling work put in earlier and the wonderful performances from Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Henry B Walthall and especially Robert Harron.

August 19, 2013 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation is as much a part of film history as the Civil War is a part of American history.

December 2, 2011 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid | Comment (1)
Combustible Celluloid

Links the divide between American past and American present.

July 3, 2007 Full Review Source: Projection Booth
Projection Booth

a masterpiece that still packs a punch and whose standard-bearing genius remains untarnished.

August 20, 2006 Full Review Source: Cinema Writer | Comment (1)
Cinema Writer

What does it say about a country that one of its greatest films is also one of the most bigoted movies ever made? ... If you can ignore the actors in blackface and the vicious stereotypes, Griffith's folly is also a triumph of silent film technique.

July 12, 2006 Full Review Source: Boulder Weekly | Comments (2)

Like it or not, its tremendous influence can't be denied.

May 2, 2006 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews | Comment (1)
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Racist yet an incredibly important landmark film.

October 21, 2005

shocks audiences with its blatant racism yet remains one of the defining films of the silent era.

September 24, 2005 Full Review Source: Cinematic Reflections

Groundbreaking, but too racist to enjoy.

November 6, 2004
Juicy Cerebellum

Artistically, technically, and culturally, the importance of Griffith's celebrated, villified, deeply troubling Civil War masterpiece cannot be overstated.

August 22, 2004 Full Review Source: Decent Films Guide
Decent Films Guide

This notoriously problematic melodrama is the first true screen epic and arguably the most important motion picture ever made.

July 30, 2003 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Audience Reviews for The Birth of a Nation

The greatest American movie ever made.

Full review coming to themoviefreakblog.com on 8/30
August 3, 2013
spielberg00

Super Reviewer

Ignore the five star rating I gave to "The Birth of a Nation" and let's not even discuss it, for ratings are wholly irrelevant in the context of this film. A culmination of all knowledge gained during the silent film era, this D. W. Griffith landmark is as much part of American history as the Civil War, and its impact on our society as well as American cinema cannot be overstated. The camera and storytelling techniques pioneered in the making of "Nation" have influenced nearly every film that came after it, and modern cinema owes a great debt to the director for his unwavering vision and talent. However, I cannot say that I enjoyed the film, as "Nation" is clearly a direct reflection of the director's deeply racist opinions, and is simply put a morally reprehensible affair. Nevertheless, it is permanent blemish in the pages of our American history, and it must be confronted; discussion and reflection are the preferred methods, not blissful ignorance.
November 6, 2012
Kristijonas Fussman

Super Reviewer

Who needs Adolf Hitler when you've got D.W. Griffith? After 20 odd years of suspicious curiosity, I finally put three hours aside to watch America's very own Nazi propaganda film, "The Birth of a Nation." It is sickening to hear this piece of filth described as a touchstone of American cinema.

The story is told in two parts: The Civil War and Reconstruction. In the first part, the movie sides with the South, but it doesn't demonize the North. In fact, President Lincoln is presented in a rather rosy hue. His murder, which is staged in the movie, is presented as a tragedy.

But in the second part, the agents of Reconstruction are demonized the way the Nazis portrayed Jews. Black men are portrayed as "crazed negroes" (to quote a term used on one of the title cards) and lust-mad rapists terrorizing white women and girls. In one of about 100 jaw-droppingly disgusting sequences, a black man is depicted as chasing a white teenage girl through the woods. The terrified girl throws herself off a cliff rather than allow herself to be captured and raped by the man. Griffith actually films the girl plummeting to her death, her body slamming into the rocks below, just for maximum effect.

Lillian Gish plays one of the major characters, a woman who must be rescued by the Klan when a mixed-race political leader kidnaps her, attempting to force her to marry him.

The central message of the film is to celebrate the formation of Ku Klux Klan and the return of black Americans to second-class status after the brief period of Reconstruction. In one of the final scenes, a line of Klansmen on horseback stands outside a polling place, preventing black men from entering. This is presented as a good thing, keeping black men from voting.

Part of me thinks that all copies of this film should be destroyed just as a purification ritual. But another part believes the film should be seen, if only to expose how much sickness there was in American society in the early 20th century. America likes to think of itself as largely responsible for ridding the world of Nazism. But a substantial portion of the white men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War 2 had a Nazi mentality themselves. If they were German, they would have loved Hitler.

Let's not forget that "Birth of a Nation" was a gigantic hit. It not only played throughout 1915, it was also revived in most areas of the country (not just the South) annually for special return engagements. White America loved "Birth" more than any other movie of its time. It was their "Wizard of Oz," to be watched over and over.

I will never look at D.W. Griffith the same way again. In my view, he should be described as America's very own Hitler.
March 17, 2012
Bill D 2007
William Dunmyer

Super Reviewer

    1. Elsie Stoneman: We shall crush the white South under the heel of the black South.
    – Submitted by Alex K (23 months ago)
    1. Abraham Lincoln: Their leaders must be hanged and their states treated as conquered provinces.
    – Submitted by Alex K (23 months ago)
View all quotes (2)

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Foreign Titles

  • Die Geburt einer Nation (DE)
  • Birth of a Nation (1915) (UK)
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