In D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, what "Nation" is being born?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The Birth of a Nation was based on Thomas Dixon's novel The Clansman, and the title is indicative of what type of nation is being born. The story is set in the wake of the Civil War, with the Confederacy in ashes. In short, the "birth" referenced in the title is that of a new America, reunited after the Civil War, in which white supremacy was restored. The film is heavily steeped in "Lost Cause" mythology, depicting the antebellum South as a place where slaves were happy and docile. Similarly, the postwar South is portrayed as awash with corruption and abuses perpetrated by newly freed blacks, who are depicted as subhuman beasts. The reunion of North and South along white supremacist lines is manifested at the end of the film, when Phil and Elsie Stoneman, the children of a northern abolitionist, are married, respectively, to southerners Margaret and Ben Cameron. The film approvingly depicts the use of armed violence to keep blacks from voting, suggesting that this is necessary to preserve the "Aryan birthright" of Northern and Southern whites. Indeed, the film is often given partial credit for stimulating the revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the South in 1915. The essential feature of this new nation, then, was white supremacy.

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