Baltimore and the first ‘Birth of a Nation’ film
Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation,” the emotional story of a bloody 1831 slave rebellion, isn’t the first movie with that title to open in Baltimore. Or to be steeped in controversy.
D.W. Griffith’s 1915 “The Birth of a Nation,” hailed as a technical and artistic triumph, was also controversial, embracing the Southern cause in the Civil War, making heroes of the Ku Klux Klan (which rides to the rescue of a besieged white family in the film’s finale) and being irredeemably racist.
“Birth” opened here on March 6, 1916, playing seven weeks at Ford’s Opera House on Fayette Street. While The Baltimore Sun applauded it for what one writer called “the fairness with which the critical struggle between the Government and the States is reproduced in movingpicture form,” objections were raised.
In The Sun of March 21, 1916, a letter from “Veritas” read: “It seems inconceivable that so much trouble, time and money should have been taken, 50 years after the war, to stir up the differences that divided the country in those days ... by blazing before the people of this day and generation as a true history ... a lot of selected scenes, so arranged as to make as revolting as possible the conditions which are given as justifying the reign of the Ku Klux Klan.”
Concluded Veritas: “I do not believe that any good purpose has been served by this pictured story ... and that such moving-pictures should never have been shown.”