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Well, its hard to know where to start in this "Birth of a Nation" discussion.
Just a kindly word first, "Birth" was directed by D.W. Griffith not D.H.
Lawrence, the novelist.
I suppose the difference is that Griffith, while undeniably racist (by our
standards) in "Birth", made this film after a stunning career of producing
short films which virtually defined the medium of movies. "Birth" was a
summing-up of his earlier work. Furthermore, he persisted in making films for
over 25 years after "Birth" rarely if ever touching on racism of any kind.
Riefenstahl, on the other hand, produced very few works and all, but one, are
propaganda which glorifies a brutal, racist and criminal regime. She was in
service to a state philosophy which had, as its stated purpose, the
elimination of all but the Aryan race. Although she has done work in other
media since the War, they have all been ostensibly apolitical and all have
been in other media.
Griffith, on the other hand, in only one of his many, many films betrayed his
racist upbringing. His very next film, "Intolerance" was a direct answer to
people who said that "Birth" was intolerant. His position as the great
pioneer in the most influential art of our time simply cannot be erased by
one sole excursion into what, even then, was considered a dangerously racist
subject.
Gene Stavis - School of Visual Arts, NYC