If when you grow up you hear your parents say racist things at home they will stay with you until you make a conscious effort to disconnect with that mindset. If you don't, what your parents said will resonate in your mind all your life.
The first blockbuster produced in Hollywood celebrates 100 years from the February 8 premiere in 1915, Birth of a Nation.
The top review in IMDB (link above) says;
The film is the story of two families, one Northern and one Southern, and how their lives would be intertwined during and after the Civil War. It focuses on two sons who fought in the war, and the effects their fighting would have on their families, mostly focusing on how one son would go on to be the founder of what we now know as the Klu Klux Klan. What I found most interesting is that a group we now speak of in such evil tones are represented in the movie as the defenders of all that is good and holy. When put in it's historical context and we realize that President Woodrow Wilson talked about the movie in such high praise, it gives us a real appreciation for how the world we live in has changed.
The world has changed, an African American is in the White House and the KKK is not lynching African Americans as in this scene from the film (left) or like in this scene from real life (right).
As the IMDB reviewer says, Birth of a Nation broke new ground thanks to the direction by D.W. Griffith. The battle scenes became the new standard in Hollywood.
D.W. Griffith remained controversial all the way to 2000 when the Directors Guild of America retired his name from the highest professional honor they give out. Some people disagreed with this move;
Griffith was being used as scapegoat not only for an industry but for the country as well. Remember, in 1915, the First World War having just begun, women—-black or white—-still didn’t have the right to vote. Do we no longer revere Washington or Jefferson because they kept slaves? In his brilliant documentary on the black heavyweight Jack Johnson of the 1910s, Unforgivable Blackness, Ken Burns quotes lengthy, virulently racist passages from such contemporary newspapers as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune. As Robert Graves has pointed out, it is impossible not to be a part of your times, even if you are against them.
But let's put some more context; Birth of a Nation
was the first film in theaters to charge $2.00 for a ticket, it broke all attendance records, it was voted one of the top 100 American films by the American Film Institute
, it was the first film ever shown in the White House, etc.
I diary about this because I stumbled on this article that resonates with me;
A patently offensive 'Birth of a Nation' turns 100
No one, back in 1915, had ever seen anything like D.W. Griffith’s Civil War blockbuster — with its sheer length (three hours), epic battle scenes, innovative use of tracking shots, cross-cutting and expressive close-ups. The climactic ride-to-the-rescue had audiences on their feet, wildly cheering and applauding.
Only thing, of course: The heroes riding to the rescue were the Ku Klux Klan (scored, in the original showings, to a live orchestra playing “Ride of the Valkyries,” an effect echoed 64 years later in “Apocalypse Now”). And the villains were African-Americans.
“The images are so blatant,” said Wartyna Davis, an associate dean at William Paterson University in Wayne, who has taught courses in African-American politics and popular culture and politics, and has screened excerpts from the film for her students.
Fools, upstarts, vicious rapists of white women: Those are just some of the black caricatures (many rendered by whites in blackface) that make “The Birth of a Nation,” today, a film to be more deplored than shown. “Clearly, this film is saying that black enfranchisement equals white subordination,” Davis said. “That still resonates in some political circles.”
And this is an offensive film, not just by the standards of our own time, but also for many back in 1915, when it spurred the mobilization of African-Americans as few things before or since.
Indeed, the worst fears of William Monroe Trotter, the editor whose crusading Boston-based African-American paper, The Guardian, led the charge against the film, were realized. On Nov. 25, 1915, the Ku Klux Klan — until then nearly extinct — came roaring back to life at Stone Mountain, Ga., citing “The Birth of a Nation” as inspiration. By 1926, the new Klan claimed 5 million members.
So Hollywood really got energized by a film that tapped into the racist mindset that survived the Civil War. Birth of a Nation was the biggest blockbuster, ironically, until...Gone With the Wind
. This film also glorifies the racist mindset that was necessary to justify slavery.
The racist mindset that resonated with the audiences and made Birth of a Nation such a blockbuster still resonates among most of the Southern whites (and many whites elsewhere) who cannot comprehend how an African American got to be POTUS. Racism has gone off the charts in much of America after the election of Obama. Goldwater/Nixon's Southern Strategy capitalized, to this day, on this disease.
And the issue continues to plague Hollywood as demonstrated by the controversies about Selma and the firing of the Sony CEO in part for racist comments about Obama's preferences.
We still have long long ways to go to neutralize the racism that still exists in America. From Ferguson to the prison/industrial complex, from Hollywood to voter suppression legislation in prominently racist states. It is a fight that can only be won only when whites who get it confront every day and everywhere those who don't, even though these non-racist whites may be in the minority. And it will take a conscious effort by racist whites to change.