What was The Birth of a Nation? According to Wikipedia, this movie was “…a 1915 American silent epic drama film directed by D. W. Griffith…” What was the goal for this movie? According to pbslearningmedia.org, “The film is considered the greatest blockbuster of the silent film era. Thomas Dixon, who wrote the book The Clansman, on which The Birth of a Nation was based, reveled in its success. “The real purpose of my film was to revolutionize Northern audiences that would transform every man into a Southern partisan for life.”

Why was this movie, “The Birth of a Nation”, the first blockbuster? First I need to answer this question: what is a blockbuster in terms of movies? According to Oxford Reference, “A film with an extremely high *production and *marketing budget that attains considerable commercial success. The term ‘blockbuster’ derives from the word used to describe large-scale bombs used in World War II.” And this movie was considered the greatest blockbuster of the silent film era. That means people really liked it. According to The Guardian, “Most of all, the audiences of 1915 were dazzled by feature-length movies that could legitimately be called blockbusters, notably the record-breaking, notorious The Birth of a Nation, DW Griffith’s racist romance of America’s Reconstruction era following the civil war.” People really like movies, especially The Birth of a Nation.

Why did people like The Birth of a Nation? This movie portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as the saviors of the South from the freedpeople, who were showed as being vicious and brutal beings. Apparently, Woodrow Wilson praised the movie. He made it the first movie to ever be showed at the White House. This movie was an incredible success. However, some people challenged the portrayal of African Americans and tried to have the movie banned and censored, but they were unsuccessful in their attempt. According to Facing History & Ourselves, “African American writer James Weldon Johnson wrote in 1915 that The Birth of a Nation did “incalculable harm” to Black Americans by creating a justification for prejudice, racism, and discrimination for decades to follow.”

Why was this movie so popular? According to Wikipedia, “Popular among white audiences nationwide upon its release, the film’s success was both a consequence of and a contributor to racial segregation throughout the U.S. In response to the film’s depictions of black people and Civil War history, African Americans across the U.S. organized and protested.” The author of the book The Clansman (the book the movie is based on), Thomas Dixon, wrote: “My object is to teach the North, the young North, what it has never known—the awful suffering of the white man during the dreadful Reconstruction period. I believe that Almighty God anointed the white men of the South by their suffering during that time . . . to demonstrate to the world that the white man must and shall be supreme.”

This movie was popular nationwide and has captivated the minds of white audiences, but angered the blacks. This movie was a great blockbuster, but that does not mean that is was a good movie.