The Shadow of 100 Years: Black Film Representations Since Birth of a Nation Livetweet Event

On February 8, 1915, the entire course of film changed. D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation had its premier in Los Angeles, California. The film was officially released to the rest of the country on March 3rd. Clocking in at more than three hours, this film changed the narrative form of film that had previously focused on snippets of life, reenactments of scenes from already popular works such as the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin and other such curiosities. Then President Woodrow Wilson held a special screening of the film at the White House and famously declared it as “writing history with lightning.”

The advancement of narrative form was not the only lasting impact of Birth of a Nation. This film had far greater cultural repercussions with frightening implications. The portrayals of black people in this film became forever cemented in an artform that has since become as powerful as it is popularity. The fact that this film has been used as a recruitment tool of the Ku Klux Klan attests to this power as much as the fact that the depictions of black people in this film have not completely disappeared after 100 years.

Between February 8th and March 4th, I will host a series of livetweets on Sundays and Wednesdays looking at the impact of this film and looking at others with more complex depictions of black lives and communities. This retrospective is not a celebration of this film but rather an examination of its impact on the representation of blackness over the past 100 years and the attempt to diminish the impact of the shadow the film continues to cast. Each livetweet will focus on a different film as well as a different perspective of black films including filmmaking, spectatorship and cultural criticism.

During these discussions, I want to discuss black indie filmmakers and how Griffith’s work has had a long-lasting impact in film whether as a study in technique or as a guide to get away from such depictions. The spectatorship portion should focus on addressing how it feels to be in the audience seeing these types of images repeated and mutated over the years. The cultural criticism aspect should provide a scholarly approach to this work and break down the many complications Birth of a Nation presents as a cultural artifact of American culture. Of course, I would like to conclude with where we are now and where we think representations will head as we now have visible filmmakers like Ava Duverny getting recognition for their work.

So far I am alone in this series, but if you would like to participate, feel free. If you want to help moderate livetweets and discussions, please contact me. Also, if you know of any black indie filmmakers who may be interested in taking the time to participate, please have them get in touch. I want this to be as much of a community experience as possible. I also want to note that two films in the planned viewings (The Landlord and George Washington) were directed by white males. Furthermore, I may decide to view Rebirth of a Nation in place of the original film as it essentially tells the same story with some very important commentary and observations.

Right now the planned hashtag is #BoN100. This is a tentative schedule for livetweets. All times are CST:

Sunday February 8th
1p – 3p: Afternoon Screening/Livetweet of Rebirth of a Nation (100 mins)
Following the Viewing: Discussion

Wednesday February 11th
5p – 7p: Evening Screening/Livetweet of The Landlord (112 mins)
Following the Viewing: Discussion: The Creators (Filmmakers)

Sunday February 15th
1p – 3p: Afternoon Screening/Livetweet of Medicine for Melancholy (88 mins)
Following the Viewing: Discussion

Wednesday February 18th
5p – 7p: Evening Screening/Livetweet of Killer of Sheep (83 mins)
Following the Viewing: Discussion: The Spectators (Audiences)

Sunday February 22nd
1p – 3p: Afternoon Screening/Livetweet of Daughters of the Dust (112 mins)
Following the Viewing: Discussion

Wednesday February 25th
5p – 7p: Evening Screening/Livetweet of George Washington (89 mins)
Following the Viewing: Discussion: The Impact (Cultural Criticism)

Sunday March 1st
1p – 3p: Afternoon Screening/Livetweet of Eve’s Bayou (109 mins)
Following the Viewing: Discussion

Wednesday March 4th
5p – 7p: Evening Screening/Livetweet of An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (87 mins)
Following the Viewing: Discussion: The Next 100 Years

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