The Birth of a Nation (1915)



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

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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 … More

Rating: G
Genre: Drama, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: Frank Woods, D.W. Griffith, Frank E. Woods, Thomas F. Dixen
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jun 29, 2004


as Col. Ben Cameron

as Flora Cameron

as Margaret Cameron

as Hon. Austin Stoneman

as Silas Lynch

as Jeff the blacksmith

as Abraham Lincoln

as Abraham Lincoln

as Mrs. Cameron

as Cindy, The Faithful ...

as Wade Cameron

as Mrs. Lincoln

as Duke Cameron

as Mammy

as Gen. U.S. Grant

as Gen. Robert E. Lee

as Sen. Charles Sumner

as Volunteer

as John Wilkes Booth

as Blacksmith

as Man who falls from R...

as Laura Keene

as Union Soldier

as Flora as a child

as Piedmont girl

as Dr. Cameron

as Stoneman's Servant

as Silas Lynch

as Klansman
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Critic Reviews for The Birth of a Nation

All Critics (38) | Top Critics (6)

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.

Full Review… | August 19, 2013
New Yorker
Top 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.

Full Review… | February 6, 2008
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | February 6, 2008
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

The civil war battle pictures, taken in panorama, represent enormous effort and achieve a striking degree of success.

Full Review… | March 25, 2006
New York Times
Top 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.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | April 20, 2003
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Birth of a Nation


Considering the age and the state of film making when this was made this is an awesome achievement. However it is so wildly and insultingly racist, and its rewriting of history so blatant, that those aspects diminish its overall worth a great deal. Still from a technical viewpoint its dazzling.

jay nixon

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.

Kristijonas Fussman
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.

Bill D 2007
William Dunmyer

Super Reviewer

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– Submitted by Alex K (3 years ago)
– Submitted by Alex K (3 years ago)

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