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Content aside (it's pretty bad), the 18-minute film short, "Three Little Pigskins," is amazing to watch - it features both The Three Stooges and a 23-year-old Lucille Ball in one of her very first Hollywood roles, and has been digitized in extremely high quality.
I have such mixed feelings about this film. I am glad I watched it. "The Birth of a Nation" is a well made, sweeping tale of the Civil War and the Reconstruction era that followed. It is beautfully shot and well acted. The battle scenes are compelling and well constructed. It is also the most racist thing I have ever seen. No book, film, television show or any other form of entertainment I have witnessed comes close to this level of racism. The film is three hours long, and it is divided into two sections. The first part ends with the assasination of President Lincoln. There is racism in the first half, including white actors in blackface portraying black characters, but it is the second half that takes the film's racism to unbelievable levels. I think it is important to see this film to realize how far America has come in race relations, and to contemplate how far we still need to go. Simply refusing to see a film such as this because of the blatant racism is denying this part of our history. Yes, it is an ugly part of American history, but racism existed, and still exists, and this movie brings home that message in a way that will make comtemporary viewers squirm. Roger Ebert wrote an excellent review of the film. In it, he compares "The Birth of a Nation," to another D.W. Griffith film, also starring Lillian Gish, called "Broken Blossoms." Ebert prefers the latter, which prompted me to watch two silent films from the early 1900s on the same night. I also preferred "Broken Blossoms," and highly recommend seeing it. And I recommend watching "The Birth of a Nation" as well. It was the first film screened at the White House, by President Woodrow Wilson. It is historically significant. It is also downright difficult to watch at times, particularly because D.W. Griffith did not see himself as a racist, and sadly, neither did the American moviegoers who embraced this film and its message in 1915.