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The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Not Rated | | Drama, History, War | 21 March 1915 (USA)
The Stoneman family finds its friendship with the Camerons affected by the Civil War, both fighting in opposite armies. The development of the war in their lives plays through to Lincoln's assassination and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan.



(adapted from his novel: "The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan") (as Thomas F. Dixon Jr.), (play) (as Thomas F. Dixon Jr.) | 3 more credits »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Col. Ben Cameron (as Henry Walthall)
Lydia - Stoneman's Mulatto Housekeeper
Silas Lynch - Mulatto Lieut. Governor (as George Seigmann)
Tod - Stoneman's Younger Son
Jeff - The Blacksmith (as Wallace Reed)
Abraham Lincoln (as Jos. Henabery)
Elmer Clifton ...
Phil - Stoneman's Elder Son
Dr. Cameron
Wade Cameron - Second Son (as J.A. Beringer)


Two brothers, Phil and Ted Stoneman, visit their friends in Piedmont, South Carolina: the family Cameron. This friendship is affected by the Civil War, as the Stonemans and the Camerons must join up opposite armies. The consequences of the War in their lives are shown in connection to major historical events, like the development of the Civil War itself, Lincoln's assassination, and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan. Written by Victor Munoz <vmunoz@macul.ciencias.uchile.cl>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Lincoln's Assassination. The fatal blow that robbed the South of its best friend. See more »


Drama | History | War


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:




Release Date:

21 March 1915 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

In the Clutches of the Ku Klux Klan  »

Box Office


$100,000 (estimated)


$10,000,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| | (video) | (DVD)

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


During filming, camera operator Karl Brown was sure that the movie was just another typical melodrama. At the film's premiere, D.W. Griffith had hired the entire Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra to play the score for the film. Brown was amazed; nothing like this had been done before. When the conductor raised his baton, and the orchestra started playing, he said it was so amazing and loud he was shaking his head, "It was like nothing I ever heard." Brown additionally remembers that Griffith hummed certain themes to the composer of the original score that he wanted. See more »


When John Wilkes Booth is in the corridor outside the President's box preparing to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, he draws and cocks his handgun then enters the box with the gun in his hand. Yet once inside the box, he reaches into his coat with the same hand (now empty) and draws out the gun again. See more »


Mammy: [to a servant from the North, who attempts to make her carry his bags] You' northern lown down black trash, don't try no airs on me.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The following was listed in the opening credits: A PLEA FOR THE ART OF THE MOTION PICTURE: We do not fear censorship, for we have no wish to offend with improprieties or obscenities, but we do demand, as a right, the liberty to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue - the same liberty that is conceeded to the art of the written word - that art to which we owe the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. See more »


Referenced in Suspiria (1977) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Great techniques and a horrible message...
30 July 2016 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

...yet I still give it an 8/10 for all of the ground that it broke.

When it was released in 1915, the Hollywood movie industry was still in its infancy as movie makers such as DeMille had only been there about a year or so. Most movies were made on the East coast and used artificial lighting which often gave the films a very flat look.

Most filmmakers would film outside until the late afternoon and then close up shop. Griffith however liked to use lighting just as the sun was going down as it gave everything a soft glow. These scenes looked better than anything you could have achieved in a set with artificial lighting in those days.

The battles scenes also looked very good, like a lot of care was taken to set them up and make them as realistic as possible. This kind of an epic was rare for the times and must have surprised most movie goes who were more used to short films that were often shot on sets with artificial lighting.

Some of the innovations of BOAN (it should be noted that while Griffith didn't originate all of the techniques used in BOAN, he was the first to integrate them all so seamlessly in a feature-length film) included night-time photography-Billy Bitzer achieved by firing magnesium flares into the night for the split-screen sequence of the sacking of Atlanta, being the first film to have an original score, the first film to employ hundreds of extras for the battle scenes, flashbacks and parallel editing, and extensive use of close-ups, long shots, dissolves, etc. to heighten the impact of the story.

It's not fair to other films and filmmakers to say this film and this film alone changed movie history but it's definitely on the short list of films that did along with DeMille's "Squaw Man" released the previous year which is remembered as Hollywood's first feature length film, even though it is not. That honor goes to Helen Gardner's "Cleopatra" made in 1912.

Then there are the features of the story that give this film a well-deserved bad rap for having revived the KKK. ' There is the Austin Stoneman character who is biracial and wants to rule the South with an iron fist. He sets himself up as some kind of alternate President during reconstruction. Where was the real president, Andrew Johnson? Locked in a broom closet? This character was supposed to be a thinly veiled caricature of Thaddeus Stevens.

Since white Confederates have their civil rights suspended during this time, the state houses of the south are shown packed with the absolutely worst stereotypes of black men, with them eating, drinking liquor, and taking their shoes off and putting their feet on their desks during the chaotic legislative sessions. They are also shown as sex-mad for Caucasian females, the biracial Austin Stoneman included. Let's just say that the story is as subtle as a sledge hammer, but when you realize that its contemporaries considered a guy in a cape with a long mustache tying virgins to railroad tracks to be high drama, the actual message of BOAN may be hogwash, but the complexity of the story telling and the sophistication of the acting is to be admired.

That's why I recommend it in spite of the point of view of the script. Sorry for the long review, but a long film often requires one.

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