Portraying the Ku Klux Klan as heroic underdogs, silent epic The Birth of a Nation (1915) is widely considered to be the most controversial film of all time. At once one of US culture’s greatest artistic achievements and one of its most abhorrently racist artefacts, it becomes more shocking with every passing year. Comprising a decade of archival research and published on the 100th anniversary of the film’s release, this richly detailed study considers both the film’s afterlife and the artistic, industrial and moral surroundings in which it was created.
Drawing on an unbroken century of production and reception history, Paul McEwan recounts the film’s origins and development, Griffith’s unique editing and cinematography and the construction of racial identity and fear in the film. Assessing its contribution as an art form, while directly grappling with the complexity of the art-or-racism debate, Paul McEwan shows how The Birth of a Nation has had a central role in the development of film and Film Studies worldwide.
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