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Birth of a Nation and Uncle Tom’s Cabin on Turner Classic Movies Monday April 11

This year and month, being the 150th Anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, Turner Classic Movies will be showing, all this month, films dealing with the conflict, such as Gone with the Wind, Raintree County (the film where Elizabeth Taylor goes nuts because she thinks she’s part black – and back then, that was enough to make a white person go crazy) and Glory.

But without question, one of the most important films ever made, D.W. Griffith’s 1915 landmark 190 minute epic, Birth of a Nation, will be shown on TCM on Monday Aprill 11 at 8PM (7PM Central Time).

Griffith’s classic film, based on the book The Klansman, about the fall and rise of the South before, during and after the Civil War, with black people – or rather white actors in black face – as the villains, and the KKK has the heroes who literally come to the rescue, heralded the birth of modern cinema.

It’s also of course the most racist film ever made. (I’m sure you would have your own choice for what would be No.2 after Birth of the Nation on the “most racist” list, but mine would go to Zach Synder’s 300).

Several years ago I taught a college class on black male images in America Cinema and had a public screening of the film. The audience’s jaws dropped to the floor. They had heard of the film, but didn’t really have any idea what they were going to see. Needless to say, they were quite stunned – except for one lost white woman who didn’t see what all the fuss was about.

Here’s a clip from the film:

And as a extra special bonus, if you’re willing to stay up late on Monday/ Early Tuesday morning at 3:30 AM (2:30AM Central Time), TCM will show the 1927 silent film version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin with James B. Lowe as the title character

However, though I think the 1965 German film version, or as it’s known over there as Onkel Toms Hutte, I wrote about a few weeks ago (HERE) still would be more interesting.

27 comments to Birth of a Nation and Uncle Tom’s Cabin on Turner Classic Movies Monday April 11

  • I have never seen Birth of A Nation, never had an inclination to, but because of its significance in cinema, I am going to try and get through a viewing of it.

  • soma lux

    i would say crash is more racist than 300. but that just my opinion.

  • Neziah

    It’s definitely the most racist film ever made, but surprisingly, it didn’t bore me in the slightest.

  • natalie

    America loves to relive its racist past over and over; they are always showing uncle tom’s cabin on TCM. I wonder if the German’s mark the anniversary of world war II by showing all their anti-semitic steryotyped films ( and i am not talking news reels–I’m talking anti-semitic films which they made back in the day)

    • gb

      Natalie: the German’s don’t have to do anything like that because the Jewish people have museums and other things to remind us of WW2. I admire the fact that Jews are able to remind everyone of their horrible past but Blacks are basically told to suck it up and forget it. Let’s not forget anyone’s horrible past so that it won’t be repeated.

  • Melissa

    i agree with natalie. its bizarre, like they masturbate to how cruel they use to be.

  • I’d hope that (after watching “Birth of a Nation”) people who love movies like “Precious” and “Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls” would reconsider what they’re co-signing for.
    It doesn’t matter that a Black man is making those movies, we need to hold them accountable.
    Accountable for what?
    For perpetuating the 21st century version of projecting the Black man as a vile & abusive brute.
    Don’t we realize that the ONLY reason White execs in Hollywood love that stuff is because it carries their torch of making Black men look like heathens.

    Yes, we need to address the damage that we’re doing to ourselves, but not the way Tyler Perry is doing it.
    What’s sickening is that we’d rather throw our Black men under the bus, than to attack the mainstream media (which is owned by the very same White men who instil the social illness).
    They’ve done it so well, they don’t even have to tell us what to do. We do it, automatically.

    But, let me get back to the topic posted by Sergio. TCM mostly shows movies that “they” think are classic. One time, they showed “Black Orpheus”. Good on that. But most of what Turner plays is the same over-rated grabage. I really don’t think TCM should be celebrating racist movies. Atleast thats how it seems. Most White people hold “Gone With The Wind” and “Birth of a Nation” with high esteem. Its patronage to them that they feel “should always be recognized as American tradition”.

    • Mrs. Lindsey


    • Shaquan, I feel you doing your black pride thang, and no disrespect intended, so cop a squat so old school can put you up on a little game.

      First, I am a huge TCM fan. I even own their DVD catalog (book). So…

      You said: “But most of what Turner plays is the same over-rated grabage:

      Now I say: GARBAGE?! OVERATED?! Young man, TCM has shown all of our earlier black pioneers of the movie business, and many are still living. And I suppose you believe every oscar winning movie and actors are garbage (they’ve shown them all)? If so, I question your garbage and knowledge of movies.

      But to a small degree, I understand (maybe) that you’re having a hard time with the word “classic”? I mean, I can go “there” with you because “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “The adventures of Huckleberry Finn” are American classics, MY ASS!

      In my opinion they are considered American Classics because they champion the thought that it’s the American way of life – (always has been) – that white folks are superior to black folks. And, from what I read, the messages is… it’s standard procedure (classic) to mistreat po colored folk? Oh yeah, their classic vehicles to carry the message… “it takes good white folks to rescue dem po dumb darkies, I mean nigga Jims? Uh huh, and in the end the darkie still gets screwed.

      Now, “Precious” and “Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls” are movies. Okay, loved Precious, not so much FCG’s. They’re two stories in time. They’re 2 of a thousand avenues in which one could draw a conclusion and/or opinion on any number of topics including race, sexual abuse, or rather or not the Miami Heat will win the NBA Championship. Depending on who you ask, it’s highly probably a mega-ton of thoughts and opinions will follow any questions within that group of “serious issues”.

      And please excuse me, did I miss the memo? When did the mystical “ambiguous” other folks (eye in the sky) ever love us? I mean, did I miss the call that said we’ve been loved for the last 200 years? If there was no such doctrine, then why (NOW?) are some folks concerned with how a movie (one movie) projects a black face, or highlights real issues within our community?

      Come on, if a person gets their core knowledge from a damn movie and uses that “limited” knowledge to draw a qualified conclusion based solely from that source, THAT person is an idiot! He or she is mentally bankrupt. Consequently, if someone worries about that fool’s opinion, then hey, what does that say about them? If you talk to a fool long enough, there will soon be two fools talking – and arguing – and chasing their tails on a fool’s errand.

      So Tyler Perry portrays the black man as an evil usurper of woman. Really… how so, and if so, and? And what, those monsters don’t exist? You can’t compare a small subtext of Tyler’s movies, that YOU believe is “perpetuating the 21st century version of projecting the Black man as a vile & abusive brute” to a movie who’s WHOLE message was depicting the black man as dumb, savage and inferior beast.

      Come on Shaquan, Tyler Perry didn’t create those brutal men, look out your window, or look in your family tree. Please, lets keep this real. Who’s fooling who?

  • pinksghetti

    Has Birth of a Nation ever been shown before? Because I think I saw some of it some years ago but not sure if it was just some small clips or part of the entire movie. It would be interesting to see just for the historical context. I’ve never seen Uncle Tom’s Cabin and I don’t want to see it if I have to be up at 3:30am.

  • artbizzy

    I highly reccommend that people see this film. It’s a long one but well worth it. Lots of what we are going through right now was established or exemplified rather by this movie. From Hattie McDaniel to Tyler Perry, to Hally Berry to even Barack Obama’s position in the world. From the mulatto’s position in Hollywood and so on. Watch it for its symbolism, its archetypes, it’s amazing. This movie is the foundation of Hollywood as we know it today and it brought about a resurgence of the KKK which continued to spread its terror and wrath for decades after this film was made.

  • If BIRTH OF A NATION is #1 and 300 is #2, then PRECIOUS and THE BLIND SIDE have to be #3 and #4.

  • Sergio , I follow you column via facebook. Tanks for your execellent contributions to understanding media and its impact on culture and politics. I will be watching and recording the films on TCM mentioned here. I would appreciate any other films you might recommend that may have been made with the topic of African Americans and the Civil War. If memory serves me correct Clint Eastwood did one of his westerns as a former member of Quantrill’s Raiders which was a vicious gang of paritisan confederates. As distasteful as some of the content might be it is insightful to understand how stories and legend provide a basis for political thought regardless of how misguided and ill-informed it might be.

  • nazihunter

    People really should see this movie and see what they really thought about us. Most people don’t know that at the time that this movie was made, it was endorsed by the PRESIDENT OF THE US, as a TRUE story. It is for reasons such as these, that we need to be paid repreations. I understand some blacks people’s apprehension against reprations, but one must understand…EVERY other group harmed by the US have recieved repreations but the black slave. The Indians, the chinese, hell they even paid members of the taliban. They pay whom they kill in Afganiskan. Until they pay us, they never will admit they were wrong and are still wrong. We were still subhuman just 60 years ago…think about that. There are people alive today that benefit off of the fruits of slave labor. This country wouldn’t be shit without the blackman. No mansions built in the south, including the whitehouse, without a black man’s touch to it. Hell, they were to lazy to pick their own damn cotton! We were blocked from gaining any kind of wealth. Remember black Wall street? They burned it to the ground. The put their foot on our necks and then say, “Ni66a get up and stand!” They put a ball and chain on our leg and tell us to run. We must keep voting, we must see to our own interest, they are not gonna give it to us, and they are trying their damndest to take it all away.

  • Yardeone

    Why is it that every time there is an event with black and white overtone black people get their panties in a bunch. I’m black and i am not surprise one bit about how racist white people are. I’m mad at my own people for being so naive that racism against us is over. Wake the f44k people!!! White people will never like us…NEVER!!! We need to follow the Jewish lead and think of ourselves and creat economic power. Money is the only thing white people respect.

    • OPPS… HELLO! Say it loud! Let’s say that again….

      “please excuse me, did I miss the memo? When did the mystical “ambiguous” other folks ( white folk’s eye in the sky) ever love us? I mean, did I miss the call that said we’ve been loved for the last 300 years? If there was no such doctrine, then why (NOW?) are some folks concerned with how a movie (one movie) projects a black face, or highlights real issues within our community?”

  • BluTopaz

    Never seen this movie and don’t plan to, but I always feel conflicted about the topic. Yes it’s annoying to hear film historians talk about its innovation while
    dismissing the content. Tim Roth (who I like a lot) got in some trouble for praising this film a few years back. But I have watched Leni Riefenstahl’s (sp) films many times and cannot get over how brilliant she was, and the scope of her influence. And it’s chilling that she never admitted she knew she was making evil look slick, i don’t know what griffith felt about the reactions to his garbage. The difference with my admiration for Riefenstahl is obviously, I’m not pining for the days of nazis, the way good ol amurikans wax nostalgic when they watch this flick. I totally understand if many Jewish people don’t see her as a great filmmaker.

    And it’s interesting here that some people note it’s important for us to watch it for the origins in stereotypical imagery. I agree, esp for a lot of younger people who think Beyonce in brown shoe polish is fly, or that the wealthiest Black man in cinema got there by wearing a dress.

  • Deeez

    I, for one, am thrilled that TMC will be airing the 1927 Version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, because the lead actor James B. Lowe is my Great-Uncle. Through his sister, my Grandmother, I have poster, and lobby cards, but have never seen any of the film. I have recently found the film is available on VHS, but for most of my life. it has been impossible to see the film.

    What many do not realize today is the significance the film had in it’s day for Black people. Here was a Black Man, starring in a major production, by a major studio. (Warner Brothers) There had been several previous versions made with white actors in blackface. This guy had somehow broken the color line! He was a Hero! My Grandmother always spoke in glowing terms about her big brother Jim, and the importance of what he did for us.

    As for me, it has been interesting to be related to the Original Uncle Tom. I never knew my uncle, as he died shortly after I was born. As a child, it was a wonderful story that I took pride in. It was a source of shame during my Black Nationalist days. As I have become a filmmaker, the film and my uncle have taken on a growing cultural importance. In 1927, we thought we had overcome. and it has been shown that, Black POTUS or not, we are still to overcome. Perhaps, we should focus on overcoming overcoming.


  • Deeez, I am feeling you, my uncle is the actor that played Kingfish in the 1950′s television series Amos & Andy (first black faces on TV). He was out there grinding for years until he got that part.

    If it wasn’t for those that went before us, paying their dues and kicking down doors, we would not be where we are today.

    Btw, Sergio wrote a similar post (a couple of months ago) and I wrote a post about.

    Like you, I have pictures and plenty of wonderful family stories.

    You know what, you’ve given me and idea. It’s approximately 3:30 PM CST, I am going to edit that post to include a family picture of Kingfish with his mother & father and All his brothers, (3 sisters missing from the photo)

    If you care to take a look (and I’ll look at yours) here’s the post.

    It’s titled What About A Time Called Now?

  • Tamara

    Wow. Just realized that I haven’t seen 300 since I saw it in the theaters. For all its rage and action and graphic blood-spurting, it’s really a downer film. I don’t’ have the strungth (or interest) to watch it again.

    I studied Birth of a Nation for a film course. That’s about all I can say on that.

  • lilkunta

    I have no desire to see BOAN. I see and experience racsim everyday so I dont want to have these images in my head.

    Who dd BOAN usher in modern film?
    Why is 300 #2 racist film?