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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.


D.W. Griffith


Thomas Dixon Jr. (adapted from his novel: "The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan") (as Thomas F. Dixon Jr.), Thomas Dixon Jr. (play) (as Thomas F. Dixon Jr.) | 3 more credits »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Henry B. Walthall ... Colonel Ben Cameron aka The Little Colonel (as Henry Walthall)
Lillian Gish ... Elsie - Stoneman's Daughter
Mae Marsh ... Flora Cameron - the Pet Sister
Miriam Cooper ... Margaret Cameron - the Elder Sister
Mary Alden ... Lydia Brown - Stoneman's Mulatto Housekeeper
Ralph Lewis ... Hon. Austin Stoneman - Leader of the House
George Siegmann ... Silas Lynch - Mulatto Lieut. Governor (as George Seigmann)
Walter Long ... Gus - A Renegade Negro
Robert Harron ... Tod - Stoneman's Younger Son
Wallace Reid ... Jeff - The Blacksmith (as Wallace Reed)
Joseph Henabery ... Abraham Lincoln (as Jos. Henabery)
Elmer Clifton ... Phil - Stoneman's Elder Son
Josephine Crowell ... Mrs. Cameron
Spottiswoode Aitken ... Dr. Cameron
George Beranger ... Wade Cameron - the 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


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Drama | History | War


Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

21 March 1915 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

In the Clutches of the Ku Klux Klan See more »


Box Office


$100,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


| | (video) | (DVD)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Because of the huge importance of this film, it is suspected that some actors may have exaggerated claims to have worked on the film in order to bolster their resume. Among the unconfirmed cast members are John Ford, who claimed to have played a Klansman riding with one hand holding up his hood over one eye so he could see better. Such a Klansman is visible in the film and may indeed have been Ford. Despite frequently being credited as a "Piedmont Girl", actress Bessie Love denied claims that she ever appeared in this film. Erich von Stroheim for years claimed to be the stunt man who falls from a roof (breaking two ribs in the process), but assistant director Joseph Henabery strongly denied that von Stroheim was ever on a D.W. Griffith set until after Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916). Some have claimed to spot what appears to be a blackfaced von Stroheim as a voter in the election poll scene. Henabery, who was on the set of the film as an actor and assistant director, claimed that the actor who did the roof-fall stunt was in fact Native American actor Charles Eagle Eye. George Beranger was credited as "John French" in the original program notes, for some reason. 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 »


intertitle: [at end of film] Liberty and union, one and inseparable, now and forever!
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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 »

Alternate Versions

In both 1921 and 1927, edited versions of the film were released to reflect current political viewpoints. See more »


Referenced in The Gristle (2001) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Is the historical importance of this film greatly exaggerated?
26 April 2006 | by bbhlthphSee all my reviews

I saw this film at a small "Art House" theatre when I was a graduate student. It was supported by program notes, and reviews of the film by respected critics, these stressed Griffith was a trend setting director who had made significant contributions to modern cinema. I remember three major developments were attributed directly to him, firstly his use of a mobile camera for tracking rather than bringing events to the camera; secondly pioneering the use of close-up photography in the cinema and thirdly the incorporation of pseudo-documentary sequences (e.g. the assassination of Lincoln) into a fictional story. I therefore watched this film with great anticipation; but as something of a young idealist I was more and more sickened by what I then felt was glorification of the KKK, and afterwards I was bitterly disappointed by my evening. I decided that if I ever watched TBOAN again it would only be when I was better informed both about American history of the period and about the work of other contemporary Hollywood film-makers. It is now 60 years later and I see "The Birth of A Nation" is scheduled to be screened on TCM next month, so probably the time has come to watch it again; and perhaps comments based on my original viewing so long ago may be appropriate at this time as the impressions I now have of this film will be those that have been with me for most of my life.

Films showing conflicts must present both sides as believing utterly in the righteousness of their cause; but historical films also have at least a moral responsibility to ensure the material shown has some reasonable approximation to historical accuracy, and whenever possible the convictions of both sides should be equally fairly presented. Most of the criticisms of TBOAN on this database derive not from its sympathetic presentation of the KKK but from the fact that this is presented as the only side which is relevant. We need to remember that slavery was introduced into human society back in prehistoric times - it was usually associated with a recognised obligation on the part of the slave-owner to provide a reasonable standard of living for his slaves, and alternative mediaeval societies from which slavery had been eliminated often did not do even this for their dispossessed citizens. Members of ruling classes everywhere lived a lifestyle which required the full time labours of many slaves or underprivileged workers to maintain, and only after the invention of the steam engine did it become possible to picture a world from which slavery might eventually be eliminated. Although this then probably became inevitable, its elimination has still not been completed; and in the United States it took place in an appallingly destructive way, part of which is pictured in TBOAN. Every nation has shameful episodes in its history which have and will cause distress for many generations before they are gradually outgrown. Recognising that the American Civil War did not result only from a dispute about slavery but much more from a whole range of economic and cultural issues, I appreciate that it would be grossly improper for me as a Canadian to seize on some of the controversial aspects of TBOAN as an excuse to condemn the film. I will re-watch it as a valid and important effort to document the concerns of the group of citizens it featured (although I will still reserve the right to feel Griffith should have made more effort to also document the concerns of those with opposing viewpoints.) My concerns here are directed more to assessing the importance of TBOAN in the development of the modern cinema, and I currently find myself siding with the relatively few users who have commented that its significance seems to be greatly overrated. When I first saw this film I had seen relatively few of the important early silent films, and it was easy to accept claims that Griffith's work was of overwhelming importance. Now I have seen other contemporary works; and have also come to appreciate that all surviving copies of about 90% of these works have totally disappeared (whilst probably half of the 10% of which copies still exist are not available for home viewing even from specialist libraries as the only copies are located in inaccessible archive collections). This is not brought out clearly by most of the 200 user comments on this film listed by IMDb, and it is so important that it has led me to pen these further comments. Film-makers in the silent era were extremely productive - Griffith himself is credited by IMDb with having directed over 500 films, most of them silent, and several other directors/producers have well over 100 films credited. Since so few survive, we must recognise how far our current assessment of early directors might change if we were able to see and compare more of their works. I believe that many innovations in film technology have been exclusively attributed to Griffith primarily because of the ready availability today of copies of 'TBOAN', 'Intolerance' and 'Orphans of the Storm'. I found this feeling very strongly reinforced when I had a rare chance to see a screening of Lois Weber's 'Hypocrites'. Weber was, for a time, the highest paid director in Hollywood and received a best director award in 1916 (ahead of Griffith, just one year after he released TBOAN). All I will say at this point is that, although I am admittedly relying on rather uncertain memories, I believe 'Hypocrites' was more stimulating for its innovative cinematographic techniques than 'Intolerance'. It would be interesting to know whether other database users have had similar thoughts about this or other early works.

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