Analysis of the film “The Birth of a Nation”

Media, for a long time since its inspection, has been the mirror of society’s social ideologies regarding gender, race, and class. Thus, while media as a concept continues to transform and advance in the modern world, its influence on the public grows as well. On this accord, this discourse aims at articulating the film The Birth of a Nation as the media material for analysis. The film is essentially a spinoff of the novel The Clansman by Thomas Dixon published in 1905, and as such, analyzing the film is similar to interpreting the book. However, the film is preferred because of the visual references fundamental to this discourse. The analysis will further discuss how the concepts of gender, race, and class are portrayed in the film and also make references to the white supremacy heteropatriarchy. Ultimately, a personal opinion explaining and supporting why I oppose white supremacy heteropatriarchy will be presented alongside specific examples of the effects of the same.

Key words: white supremacy heteropatriarchy, KKK, Mulattoes, Whites, Blacks, whiteness, blackness, slavery, capitalism.

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Representation of People

The film represents different individuals based on their race and gender uniquely. Even though the film depicts a tug of war for superiority between Whites and Black Americans, the plot leans more towards the Whites elaborately because the intended audience for the film was whites sympathetic to racist ideology. The white people are depicted as transcendent in emotional intelligence, which is a privilege only accorded to them (Gallagher, 1982). This fact is primarily observed in the scene where Ted Stoneman tenderly strokes the cheek of the deceased Duke Cameron in the aftermath of the Civil War, which saw the Southern Cameron family and the Northern Stoneman family pitted against each other. Nonetheless, despite their differences, the two sons from each family, Ted and Duke seem to have developed a liking for each other as they die in each other’s arms.

In the above scene, the film edifies that, even in times of crisis, white people can transcend society’s boundaries of heterosexual love and military allegiance (Gallagher, 1982). However, when it comes to how the black community is depicted, it is not a similar case. Gallagher elaborates that black characters throughout the film are denied heroic or transcendent moments and are further portrayed as abnormal. Also, black people are represented as individuals of lower stature and class, and as such, they serve the role of slaves. Thus, as slaves and people of color, the film imparts that the group acts outside the accepted standards of American ideals of behavior based on their expression and motives. This conceptualization is ironic considering that the blacks did not depict any heterosexual moments in the film which was a standard divergence from the American societal norms at the time.

Black men, in addition to being enslaved and subordinate to the Whites, they are represented as brutes. Further, they are denied positions of power and are ruled over by, as Bernardi (n.d) describes, self-righteous white politicians who openly support racism as a fact of the American social life. This inequality is the reason behind the rise of the KKK bringing about the reconstruction era as the heroes in the film. However, of all the individuals represented by the film, the most revered and threatening ones were what Dixon in his novel and Griffith in the movie referred to as the mulattoes (half black and half white). These were descriptively crossbreeds between Whites and Blacks. Despite the blacks at the time being considered as primitive and easy to control, the mulattoes were deemed to be cunning, difficult to control, manipulative, and immoral (Bernardi, n.d).

On the other hand, women are represented as seductive and servants. Further, they are considered mischievous and climb the social ladder through sexual immorality. Mulatto women are considered to be the worst. Though they do not hold any positions of power, as is general of all women, they are influential and have high or lascivious ambitions (Bernardi, n.d).

Alien Perspective

As an alien, I would consider the White people as the most superior of all the races in terms of class, racial supremacy, and gender. Black people, on the other hand, are the opposite of the Whites and should be treated in no higher stature than that of servitude. In essence, I would consider the Blacks as only pawns in the White people’s world. However, I would be wary of their ability to revolt and mobilize as observed in the case of the KKK. Mulattoes are the plague of the society with no affiliations or loyalties to either race. I would not trust them and would be careful around them, and if possible, avoid them. Women, though they have no class, I would believe them to be cunning and lethal with their sexual appeal. Nonetheless, I would think they’re only good for objectification and domestic service.

White Supremacy Heteropatriarchy

White supremacy heteropatriarchy descriptively refers to the socio-political ideology that primarily white people or communities have authority or transcendence over black people or communities and other races such as the mulattoes. White supremacy heteropatriarchy comprises three pillars, Slavery/Capitalism, Genocide/Capitalism, and Orientalism/War. According to the first pillar, the social ideology holds that black individuals are inherently slaveable and are nothing more than property (Smith, 2016). Based on this white supremacy logic, blackness equals slaveability, which informs the capitalism of slavery and why black people were sold into it.

From the supremacist position, it becomes clear why the Blacks and the mulattoes in the film and novel were considered less important. As Bernardi ascertains, the Blacks, as portrayed by the film “simply do not matter; they are only counters in the struggle of a split white self to reunite” (p88). The heteropatriarchy also explains why the black characters are depicted as abnormal in their behavior, why there are only white leaders, and why whiteness through slavery is stamped all over the film. In other words, even though the film recognizes the struggles of the Blacks as well as their emancipation through the KKK, it still glorifies white supremacy heteropatriarchy. For instance, the Whites in the film considered mulattoes as evidence of “the riches of whiteness being plundered by the treachery of blackness” (Bernardi, p88, n.d). It is why Bernardi interracial relationships were banned because they were illegal and socially unacceptable, all in the bid to maintain white purity.

Opinion and Rationale

I resist the white supremacy heteropatriarchy. I resist because it backtracks society to the dark ages of oppression and inequality. Also, I oppose it because it promotes criminalization of Blackness resulting in unfair justice system and enslavement of the Black people through the prison system. For instance, the number of black people in the American prison system by the end of 2017 was 475, 900 compared to 436, 500 whites (Gramlich, 2019).

Further, it promotes violence and hostilities in the public domain and the law enforcement agencies resulting in racially motivated crimes. For instance, the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was racially motivated. Another recent example is the shooting of a 15-year-old in Henderson, Nevada, on August sixth this year by police on suspicion of robbing a convenience store and carrying an object in his hand (Peeples, 2019). Ultimately, it belittles minority communities and the female gender from these communities resulting in poverty due to employment discrimination. An excellent example of this is the Babbit v. Albertson’s case, where the former discriminated against women and their race. Another similar case is that of O’Bannon v. Friedman filed in 2003 that showed employment discrimination by race.

Media and Society

The analysis above and the proffered examples show that media and society have a hold on each other and continuously influence and mold one another. Indeed, media is the mirror of the society, and The Birth of a Nation depicts this by representing the American society and its ideals at the time, some of which (racism) exist today. Thus, as society transforms and evolves, so does the media and its integration. This phenomenon can be observed in the popularity and growth of social media, the internet, and online media relative to how society has embraced them.

 

References

Bernardi, D. (n.d). Integrating race into the narrator system. Retrieved on October 18, 2019 from http://www.asu.edu/courses/fms200s/total-readings/Bernardi_Birth%20of%20a%20Nation.pdf

Gallagher, B. (1982). Racist ideology and black abnormality in The Birth of a Nation. Phylon (1960)43(1), 68-76. DOI: 10.2307/274600

Gramlich, J. (2019). The gap between the number of blacks and whites in prison is shrinking. Pew Research Center. Retrieved on October 18, 2019 from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/30/shrinking-gap-between-number-of-blacks-and-whites-in-prison/

Peeples, L. (2019). What the data say about police shootings. Nature, 573(1), 24-26. DOI: 10.1038/d41586-019-02601-9

Smith, A. (2016). Heteropatriarchy and the three pillars of white supremacy: Rethinking women of color organizing. DOI: 10.1215/9780822373445-007