Carnegie Mellon University

"The Birth of a Nation" and the Origins of Cinematic Vigilantism

Paul McEwan
Professor of Media & Communication and Film Studies
Muhlenberg College

Lecture: November 30, 2023 – 5:00-pm, Steinberg Auditorium (BH A53)

D.W. Griffith’s 1915 racist epic The Birth of a Nation is notorious for its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan and its claim that Reconstruction was an irresponsible and disastrous experiment. The film also sits at the headwaters of Hollywood filmmaking, so its justifications for vigilantism and violence carried old tropes into what was then a nascent medium.

This talk traces the influence of The Birth of Nation on American filmmaking and the broader culture, including the responses of African American filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux, who could see more clearly than Griffith the dangerous potential of this new art.

Co-sponsored by the English Department's program in Film and Visual Media.

Seminar: "Film, Art and Historical Memory in Midcentury America"

Seminar: December 1, 2023 –12:00-1:15pm, BH 254Q

Moderated by Jeffrey Hinkelman, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Film & Visual Media Program.

Reading: “From American History to Film History, 1945-1960,” Ch. 4 of Cinema’s Original Sin: D.W. Griffith, American Racism, and the Rise of Film Culture (2022).

Lunch will be provided. Registration required.

Register now