While I agree with you that Roger Ailes' defense of BIRTH OF A NATION
is troubled in all sorts of ways, I still think the film is "great." The
question here should be how we define greatness. I have to take issue
with the suggestion that Griffith and Hitler can be seen as equally
diabolical. Similarly, I have trouble understanding how you move from
Roger Ailes to a discussion of "white men" in general. White men, like
any other people, are not well represented by one media personality. We
are not all the Roger Ailes or Rush Limbaugh type.
These minor gripes aside, the real question is whether or not the
film is "great." The film is important for all of the technical advances
it reportedly (though this is problematic) made. Eisenstein places no
small importance on Griffith's techniques and whether or not you believe
that cross-cutting was Griffith's idea, the film is an early example of
the technique. Technology aside, the film is important precisely because
of its racial tone. In the same way that Riefenstahl's TRIUMPH OF THE
WILL provides valuable insight into NAZI Germany, BIRTH OF A NATION is
important in understanding the long tradition of American racism.
Your point seems to be touching on one of the inherent problems of
having such texts around. In the same way the KKK used the film for
recruiting purposes, it can still be used to promote and/or defend racial
agendas. Nevertheless, I suspect the majority of people watching BIRTH OF
A NATION these days are college students in film courses and I doubt that
Ailes' comments will spark any new "popular" interest in the film.
Perhaps the film is better defined as "important" rather than
"great." Still, I think it needs to be shown and understood as one of the
highlights of early American cinema.
Wayne State University