D.W. Griffith’s epic film Birth of a Nation will be the focus of a presentation being held by Dr. Graham Reynolds, Viola Desmond Chair in Social Justice and Dr. Andy Parnaby, Associate Professor of History, on March 10 at 12 noon in CE 265 at Cape Breton University. The influence of Birth of the Nation on Canadian racial attitudes and as a catalyst for the unprecedented growth of the Ku Klux Klan in Canada during the 1920s will be discussed. All are welcome to attend.
2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the release of Griffith’s silent movie masterpiece, which is one of the most highly acclaimed yet controversial motion pictures of all time. The film tells the story of the American Civil War and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan during the Reconstruction Era. Griffith sympathized with the South and his film idealized the Old South under slavery. He depicted blacks in a degrading and racist manner and portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as guardians of white women and the southern way of life.
In 1915, Birth of The Nation opened in theatres packed with enthusiastic audiences in major cities throughout America. “As might be expected, the film drew angry protests in many northern cities and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) began a concerted nation-wide campaign to censor or ban the showing of the film,” says Reynolds. “Although it is not well known, Birth of a Nation also premiered to full house audiences in several major Canadian cities.”
In September and October of 1915, the film had 122 showings during its opening engagement at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. Following the first year of premiere performances in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, it went on the road and, over the next decade, it was shown repeatedly in communities across Canada, including the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow. Eventually, the promoters of the film marketed it overseas and by 1930 it had been seen by an estimated 60 million people.
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