The Birth of a Nation is one of the few silent films to exploit the sexual stereotype of the black male in order to reinforce the doctrine of white supremacy. It achieves this through the use of much dreaded 'brute' figure - personified here by the renegade Gus who not only betrays his former masters by joining the black revolt, but also commits the unspeakable crime of lusting after and causing the suicide of one of the Cameron daughters. This motif is duplicated in the character and actions of Silas Lynch, the mulatto leader of his people. The sexual racism that these characters exemplify plays a crucial part in the film's thematic development; and it comes to head in the film's last minute rescue finale which justifies the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, captioned by Griffith as 'the savior of white civilization'.
While The Birth of a Nation deserves its place in film history for the way it changed the language of cinema, it is important to note that D. W. Griffith didn’t invent every technique used in The Birth of a Nation. The growing film industry of the early 1900s spawned a number of innovative directors who created many of these techniques, among them Griffith’s primary collaborator, Billy Bitzer. However, Griffith’s films were the most popular of the era, and he was more prolific than any of his colleagues. Moreover, Griffith frequently improved techniques that others had invented. The Birth of a Nation represents the finale of visual strategies to communicate narrative that the film industry had been working on for the first twenty years of its existence. Countless directors after Griffith owe their technical knowledge of filmmaking to the cohesiveness of The Birth of a Nation.
Furthermore, The Birth of Nation is notable for many of its innovative production strategies. Billy Bitzer was the first cinematographer to employ nighttime photography, a feat he achieved by firing magnesium flares into the night for the split-screen... [continues]
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