Reformer Jane Addams Critiques The Birth of a Nation
"The Birth of a Nation, which opened in March 1915, was simultaneously a landmark in the history of American cinema and a landmark in American racism. The film depicted the South, following the assassination of President Lincoln, as ruled by rapacious African Americans, who by the film’s end were heroically overthrown from power by the Ku Klux Klan. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attempted to mount boycott of the film, but it failed to stir significant white opposition. Ten days after Birth opened in New York City, noted reformer and NAACP board member Jane Addams (founder of Hull House, the Chicago settlement house) was interviewed by the New York Post about the film. Though Addams abhorred the film’s portrayal of African Americans, she nonetheless conceded—perhaps intimidated by director D.W. Griffith’s unrelenting efforts to cloak the film in the mantle of historical “accuracy”—that “some of the elements of the plot are based on actual events.” This statement suggested how deeply the pro-Southern interpretation of Reconstruction had permeated popular understanding of that history, and Griffith was able to cite contemporary academic historians to support this view."