Los Angeles, California (JFK+50) The Birth of a Nation, the controversial film produced by D. W. Griffith, premiered one hundred years ago today, February 8, 1915, here in Los Angeles.
The film, based on Thomas Dixon's novel The Clansman, was the first feature-length motion picture but the three hour movie's racial overtones made it both controversial as well as offensive.
Time's Rachel Janik, who describes the film as "the first American blockbuster, the first historical epic," writes that nonetheless, the movie's centennial will not be celebrated because of the depiction of members of the Ku Klux Klan as "glorious heroes."
Novelist Thomas Dixon, who had been a college classmate of President Woodrow Wilson, arranged for the movie to be screened in the White House. It became the second film to be shown on the property and the first to be shown inside.
Although there are some questions about this, President Wilson reportedly said that The Birth of a Nation was..."like writing history with lightning" and added "...my only regret is that it is all so terribly true."
The NAACP protested premiers of the film and published articles condemning the racism portrayed in the production. Riots broke out when the movie was shown in Boston and Philadelphia.
Rachel Janik reminds us, however, that Birth of a Nation was the beginning of modern cinema. The film pioneered technical innovations such as "close-ups, fade-outs, and...varying camera angles."
Additionally, engineers at the United States Military Academy provided both advice and artillery for the Civil War battle scenes.
The silent motion picture, the first to comprise 12 reels of film, starred Lilian Gish, Mae Marsh, Henry B. Walthall, Miram Cooper, Ralph Lewis, and George Siegmann.