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Mark Cousins view point on Birth of a Nation


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There is no contradiction between being an influental film director

and being a racist. Considering Griffith's family background, it's

not surprising that he was influenced by the racist lost cause of

magnolias and moonlight and knightly slaveocrats and celebrated

it in The Birth of a Nation.

 

It's also not surprising that Mencken, who was also a racist, paid

tribute to the "aristocratic" slavers of the Old South. But read his

essay entitled The Sahara of the Bozart. He rakes the 'poor white

trash' (his phrase) of the south over the coals relentlessly.

 

Yep, the slaves were so content living on the cozy plantations that

thousands of them left their life of leisure to follow Uncle Billy as

he marched through Georgia. :)

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This is not a forum for the discussion of slavery. It is a discussion of movies

 

You don't say? And every post on every board adheres to that 'perfect vision'?

 

You might be inclined to tell that to the poster who was defending that peculiar institution known as slavery, bagladymimi !

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Yep, the slaves were so content living on the cozy plantations that

thousands of them left their life of leisure to follow Uncle Billy as

he marched through Georgia.

 

Uncle Billy being William Tecumseh Sherman for those who didn't catch your allusion.

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We can't know exactly what happened because we didn't live through it.

 

But we can from the first hand accounts of former slaves and other slaves who escaped to become free men. Then there is the writing of Frederick Douglass. I think he knew a thing or two about what it was to be a slave. There's also the writing of William Lloyd Garrison.

 

No, I'm sorry, bagladymimi, it is not accurate to say we don't know what it was like for those who lived in that era.

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The new film "12 Years a Slave" was screened to rave reviews and a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend:

http://www.ctvnews.ca/entertainment/12-years-a-slave-elicits-standing-ovation-sobbing-at-tiff-1.1444681

http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/tiff/story/2013/09/08/tiff-12-years-a-slave.html

 

 

The film is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, an African-American from Saratoga Springs, New York, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Fortunately, 12 years later, he was able to regain his freedom:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Northup

 

From "The Telegraph" yesterday, Tim Robey's review "Toronto Film Festival: '12 Years a Slave' - brilliant and brutal" is here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/toronto-film-festival/10293267/Toronto-Film-Festival-12-Years-a-Slave-brilliant-and-brutal.html

 

Some are saying this film will do very well at the Academy Awards next year...

 

Wiki article here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12_Years_a_Slave_%28film%29

 

And more information here, including the role that Samuel Bass plays in helping Northup:

http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/northup/summary.html

 

(FYI for Canucks, Brad Pitt is in the movie playing a Canadian, Samuel Bass, who helps Northup regain his freedom...

Bass had a wife and children in Prescott on the St. Lawrence River.

But he separated from his wife and moved south into the U.S.

He died at 48 years of age from pneumonia in August 1853, just 8 months after Northup regained his freedom:

http://dgmgenealogy.info/MartinDescendants/wc_src/sm01/s01_348c.jpg

http://dgmgenealogy.info/MartinDescendants/wc_src/sm01/s01_348d.jpg

)

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H.L. Mencken's essay The Calamity of Appomattox conveys

the tremendous loss the South incurred when its Aristocracy

was defeated in The War of Northern Aggression. As he

predicted, the South ended up in the clutch of the Yankee

mortgage-shark. .

 

Sherman and his Bummers punched through Confederate

lines of defense of old men, women and children burning

and destroying everything in their path.

 

Some slaves, some accounts in the thousands , followed

his troops to Ebenezer Creek and were abandoned after

the Union troops built pontoons to cross the high water at

the creek and left the slaves behind and many panicked

and drowned.

 

Jake in the Heartland

 

Edited by: JakeHolman on Sep 8, 2013 10:48 AM

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The Union commander, Brigadier Jefferson C. Davis, was pro-slavery and this is allegedly behind his actions that day, but nothing happened to him, or any other Union commanders, after the ensuing investigation (And it was Davis's own officer, Maj. J.A. Connolly, who requested an investigation into the tragedy. Lincoln and Stanton became aware of it and Secretary of War Stanton went south to investigate in person.)

The Confederate commander, Major General Joseph Wheeler, and his men come off just as badly. According to an article by E.M Churchill in "Civil War Times Magazine":

"'From what we learned afterwards of those who remained upon the land,' Kerr (Colonel Kerr commanding the Union rearguard - my comment) continued, 'their fate at the hands of Wheeler's troops was scarcely to be preferred.' The refugees not shot or slashed to death were most likely returned to their masters and slavery.'"

 

The article states: "Because the able-bodied refugees were up front working in the pioneer corps, most of those stranded would have been women, children, and old men."

 

So these were unarmed old men, women and children that the Confederates killed or captured.

 

So the slaves were rushing to escape the Confederates and in their panic tried to cross the river. The Union soldiers obeyed the orders of their commander, who had no sympathy for the refugees, and as Colonel Kerr wrote:

 

"'The order was obeyed to the letter,' he continued. 'I sat upon my horse then and witnessed a scene the like of which I pray my eyes may never see again.'"

 

Those who didn't drown or escaped were killed by Confederate troops.

Or captured and returned to slavery.

 

You can read the "Civil War Times Magazine" article here:

http://www.historynet.com/betrayal-at-ebenezer-creek.htm

 

In this sorry episode of the Civil War with both sides sharing blame, innocent civilian ex-slaves were the victims.

 

What this has to do with the evil of slavery as portrayed in films, I don't know??

 

A discussion of something like Ebenezer Creek probably belongs in a Civil War blog or website, IMHO.

 

Edited by: RMeingast on Sep 8, 2013 12:46 PM

Added info.

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>and as Colonel Kerr wrote: "'The order was obeyed to the letter,' he continued. 'I sat upon my horse then and witnessed a scene the like of which I pray my eyes may never see again.'"

 

So RM, in essence what you're saying here is that Colonel Kerr might have actually viewed those fleeing slaves as more than "3/5th of a human being" and even more than our supposedly "infallible" Founding Fathers did, EH?! ;)

 

(...wow...how progressive a thought for the man of that era, huh!)

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The War of Northern Aggression.

 

I know you meant to say the War of the Rebellion whereby the eleven states which seceded, known colloquially as the Confederate States of America, committed high treason by firing upon Maj. Gen Robert Anderson, commander of Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay on April 12, 1861.

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I applaud you for your efforts. The only times I have encountered a similar experience was when I went to Italy with my wife, who is Italian and meet one of her relatives, who was in his 80s. He was talking and his son had to translate. We talked about general things but then he had to mention WWII. Like any ?old solider? he talked about some of his experiences. But when he got to the part of ?well,, that Hitler wasn?t so bad, and too bad our side didn?t win,,, and the Jews, they lived the good life,,,? well his son yell at him and the talk was over. The son said he was sorry. I felt sorry for the son having to have a father that was so misguided.

 

(Note: My wife told me later what the old man said all I could make out where Hitler and Jews).

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It's to be expected that a thread about Griffith and The Birth of a

Nation is likely to touch on the subject of slavery and the Civil

War.

 

William T. Sherman would be that man. Marching Through Georgia

was a good hint, if not definitive. Uncle Billy decided to live off

the "grid" and break the morale of large parts of the Confederacy.

Mission accomplished.

 

Mencken seemed to have a love affair with any group he considered

an elite. The fact that the elite owned other human beings was of

secondary consideration to him. That's a pretty pathetic idea.

He thought a lot less of the great majority of southerners, the non-

elite.:

 

"First the carpetbaggers ravaged the land, and then it fell into the hands of the native white trash, already so poor that war and Reconstruction could not make them any poorer."

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And btw, you're observation is incorrect about when the "racist" title was placed around Griffith's neck. This thought has been around at least since the 1970s, because I personally remember it being one of the reasons used, RIGHTLY OR WRONGLY, against the showing of "Birth of a Nation" in college film classes or that time.

 

*The 70's?* Good grief. The racist message of Birth of a Nation was loudly protested right from the git-go. In virtually every big city in the North there were picket lines and protests greeting it.

 

Of course when some people say that "nobody" paid any attention to Griffith's racism until 2000 or the 1970's, what they really mean is that few *white people* saw the racism in the movie. Given the prevalent racial views of 95% of the white population during that time, *that* statement is uncontestable.

 

And the idea that BOAN *didn't* spur the re-birth of the **** is just laughable. The founder of the revived Klan, William J. Simmons, said he was inspired by the movie to try to make his local organization into a national one. And while blacks protested the openings of the movie in the North, the Klan paraded in front of the theaters in full regalia, passing out recruiting leaflets.

 

None of this means that strictly on cinematic terms, BOAN wasn't a groundbreaking movie, just as was Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will. Give the Devil his (or her) due. But both the movie and its director were racist to the core, it was clearly seen that way by black people (and a handful of whites) at the time, and it most certainly *did* help the Klan in its revival. That's not "opinion", that's simply historical fact, regardless of how Griffith's apologists would try to spin it.

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Andy, I knew all that. The (counter)point I was making to Fred's misguided assertions that "all this denigration of Griffith started in the 21st Century", was based upon my PERSONAL experiences of the time, the early1970s, and when during a film class I was taking in college this very topic began a heated discussion in my classroom.

 

(...and as I'm sure you know, a firsthand account of something is usually a better argument than just quoting from other sources)

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As a film one cannot deny the talents of its director.

 

As tribute to demagoguery, one cannot deny its inherent manipulatory stance.

 

Great visuals with a less than admirable message.

 

Who can deny that Calvin Klein's ads totally usurped the visuals filmed by Leni of the males participating in the Olympics in Berlin in the 1930's.

 

All those intensely eroticized close-up shots of muscles and flexing that she initiated apparently inspired many modern ad campaigns.

 

I love films by Busby Berkeley but I hear to get them he was a horrible tyrant on set. Now I'm conflicted, should I enjoy a gold diggers film or not?

 

What to do, what to do...as Buddy Holly might have said.

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>I assume Cavegirl is cracking wise. I don't remember anyone at this forum saying one shouldn't watch films that have objectable content.

 

OH! You mean kinda like how another poster around here recently seemed to imply just THAT(they should) in a certain thread about Hattie McDaniel????

 

LOL

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To me it was never implied that one should NOT watch the McDaniel films in that other thread by we know who. I think that is where you might of had a misunderstand (but I don't really wish to cover that ground again).

 

To me the issue was about having a tribute to her and showing those films in a tribute. It would be like showing Birth Of A Nation in a film tribute for Black History month.

 

Birth of A Nation is a film I recommend all people see but I wouldn't make it part of a tribute for Black History month. I might make the film No Way Out part of a tribute (but that would be a difficult decision to make).

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Well, sorry James, but that was exactly the implication I received from you-know-who during that whole McDaniel thing.

 

And sorry again, but to then suggest as a correlative argument the inclusion of "Black History Month", seems somewhat misplaced...still.

 

(...but like ya said, I don't really wish to go over that ground again in any large measure, either...you know me...I jump in with one little shot to the chops to get my point across, and then most often return to a neutral corner of the ring) ;)

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Birth of A Nation is a film I recommend all people see but I wouldn't make it part of a tribute for Black History month. I might make the film No Way Out part of a tribute (but that would be a difficult decision to make).

 

What would really make for a much *better* Black History month tribute would be to showcase movies like Nothing But a Man, Intruder in the Dust, Anna Lucasta, and Shadows, plus earlier films made by African American studios, as opposed to the Same Old Same Old selection of black actors and actresses in wholly subservient and secondary roles. No Way Out would be another good choice, as would A Raisin in the Sun, but it'd be nice to feature some different films that don't show up several times a year to begin with.

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I completely agree with you. The only reason I mentioned No Way Out is that it is a film that has some very racist characters and uses the ?n? word a lot, but a movie that has some very positive black characters and the message that one cannot fight hate with hate.

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