Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Birth of a Nation Feb. 17 at LCCC in Cheyenne

I first saw "Birth of a Nation" in a college film class 43 years ago. I had some electives to burn in my pursuit of a degree in English. The prof showed us "The Great Train Robbery," the first American Western film in 1903. It may have been based on Butch Cassidy's famous Wyoming train robbery. But did they film it in Wyoming? No -- New Jersey.

In the film class, we moved on to D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" or, as it was originally titled, "The Clansman." You can see the entire film on YouTube. Or you can see it in Cheyenne at 9 a.m.on Saturday, Feb. 17, at LCCC as part of the African-American Black Film Exposition Feb. 14-17. It's a long film -- more than three hours -- but worth the viewing. It's one director's view of race relations. Griffith was a Southerner, steeped in myth and ritual and prejudice. His movie doesn't only reflect his views but those of many Americans at the time -- and now.

1915 is 103 years ago. My grandparents were young adults. My parents were ten years away from birth. It would be 35 years before I arrived on the scene. Racism was a fact of life when I was a kid in the West and South. Racism still is alive and well in the U.S. I wish it weren't so but it is.

"Birth of a Nation" was a big hit at theaters. Promoter for the film was George Bowles, the PR whiz who worked with the Committee on Public Information to make its film, "Pershing's Crusaders." a hit in May 1918.  The CPI was just hitting its stride on disseminating propaganda when the armistice was declared. But it would also be used to stir up the threat against Bolshevism after the war.

A CPI propaganda illustration sent out during the war:. The U.S. was thinking ahead to the fight against Bolsheviks. Note the foreign-looking commie.  

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