Plantation Stereotypes in The Birth of a Nation
In a section of my current book project on the D. W. Griffith film, The Birth of a Nation, I will be interrogating the notion of the plantation trope, if you will, as it appears in the first scenes of the film. Many early-twentieth century musings on this subject are clear reflections of a romanticized "Old South" plantation life that conjured up images of the benevolent white patriarch and the happy but simple-minded darky. Griffith enlisted the film medium to enshrine this mythos as visual...or if you like, living history. And he is in near perfect step with a prevailing white sentiment concerning the antebellum South that took root with the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War and spread to a national audience by the end of the nineteenth century. While there are a number of notable exceptions - groups and individuals who rejected the film's interpretive bent, I question how such a sectional narrative took hold and captured the imaginations of (and "historically" educated) a national audience.
In an effort to move beyond insular academic circles and engage the general public on the idea of visual representations of history, I ask: what cultural, ideological, and intellectual tendencies informed the "making" of The Birth of a Nation?
Of course, such a question can get tricky - so I welcome all comments and suggestions in the comment section below. This week, I will be working on so-called scientific studies that supported the racist sensibilities running throughout the film.