I was appalled at the news this week that the national board of the Directors Guild of America has voted unanimously to retire the D.W. Griffith Award given to a director for lifetime achievement because its namesake "helped foster intolerable racial stereotypes" in the film "The Birth of a Nation" (Morning Report, Dec. 15).
It seems these board members decided to stop history in 1915, since Griffith's response to the furor over the content and controversy of "Birth of a Nation" was the 1916 film "Intolerance," which is a far more important work and a mea culpa of sorts.
"Gone With the Wind" was/has been seen by a far greater number of people the world over with its equally "intolerable racial stereotypes." The same can be said of many films and TV shows today.
As a DGA member, I am personally outraged by this action. The national board of the DGA should be spending its time addressing the deplorable decline in the employment of women and minorities, which continues unabated.
I have always admired the Directors Guild for acknowledging the importance of D.W. Griffith with their award, and I am dismayed to hear they are withdrawing it. A sign of maturity is the ability to acknowledge greatness while not being blind to faults--Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, but his name remains on the Peace Prize.
However uncomfortable it may be, "The Birth of a Nation," beyond all other films, established the feature film and made it possible for the members of the guild to practice their craft.
The man whose name they dishonor was full of contradictions; yes, he made Hollywood's most racially explosive film, but he also made films attacking racial prejudice. In one early Griffith picture, the Klan was the villain and a black boy the hero.
Whose name will replace Griffith's? Another pioneer director--John Ford, perhaps? No, like most of his generation, he revered Griffith. How about a foreign name, a director of impeccable reputation: Carl-Theodore Dryer? Not a bad idea. Unfortunately, in a 1950s poll, Dreyer selected "The Birth of a Nation" as the greatest film ever made.
So, since D.W. Griffith's political views are now incorrect, the Directors Guild of America wants to expunge his name from their most coveted award. Apparently we've learned nothing from the McCarthy era. Can you say "blacklist"?
Since the DGA seems determined to do what's "politically correct," then how about naming the award after a woman--like Leni Riefenstahl?
HOWARD W. HAYS