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June 1994

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Subject:
From:
Gene Stavis <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Date:
Thu, 16 Jun 1994 08:59:06 PDT
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Not a big deal, but I think it ought to be pointed out that blackface was a
near-universal theatrical convention at the time of the making of "The Birth
of a Nation", much as the portrayal of women by young boys was an Elizabethan
theatrical tradition.
By our present standards and values, both practices are, of course,
inappropriate and, one might argue, symbolic of the prevailing prejudices of
the time. However, to single out Griffith as a particularly virulent racist
on the basis of this specific convention is unjust and a deliberate
distortion of history. Griffith was indeed a man who, as a conventional
Southerner of his time, must be considered a racist by our 1994 understanding
of that term. But to justify ignoring or discounting his work on that basis
is unjustifiable.
Gene Stavis - School of Visual Arts, NYC

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