UCL News


'DW Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" '

26 August 2008

Links: Listen to Dr Stokes discuss 'Birth of a Nation'

'Birth of a Nation' dustjacket oup.com/academic/product/dw-griffiths-the-birth-of-a-nation-9780195336795?cc=gb&lang=en&" target="_self">DW Griffith's 'The Birth of a Nation': Oxford University Press
  • Dr Melvyn Stokes
  • Dr Melvyn Stokes (UCL History) discusses the history of 'the most controversial motion picture of all time' in his latest book, 'DW Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation"' (Oxford University Press). Released in 1915, the film laid the foundations of Hollywood's movie industry with its ambitious scale, budget and subject - an epic portrait of the American Civil War.

    The movie is notorious for its controversial, derogatory treatment of black people, which sparked a campaign against its screening that continues today. Consequently, it also raised the profile of black rights organisations across America and spawned a furious debate over film industry regulation.

    In an interview with UCL Communications, Dr Stokes explained: "It was not just the most popular and most commercially successful film of its time, it also changed the way people went to the movies. It almost invents modern Hollywood: it gets audiences imbued with the idea that they should plan their viewing in advance, that they should pay much more for a film than they had previously, that they should set aside three and a half hours to watch a single film, which has a full orchestral score for the first time. It's a first in all kinds of ways in terms of the American cinema."

    To hear the full interview with Dr Stokes and to find out more about his research, follow the links at the top of this article.

    Image: Detail of the cover of 'DW Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" by Dr Melvyn Stokes