Rewriting History

D.W. Griffith directed the 1915 epic-making silent film masterpiece The Birth of a Nation, based on the play by Thomas Dixon called The Clansman. The purpose of the film was to rewrite the history of the South and the Civil War. The title The Clansman was changed to The Birth of a Nation to give the film broader appeal. President Woodrow Wilson, a former classmate of Dixon’s, praised the Ku Klux Klan in his writings and is extensively quoted throughout the film. The Birth of a Nation was the first film shown in the White House. In time, the film shaped Americans racial attitudes. School children were taken to see the movie to learn history. More than 200 million people saw the film, and the revival of the Ku Klux Klan may have resulted from the racial attitudes and fears that were shaped by the movie.

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