YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Are we witnessing 'Birth' of censorship?

August 14, 2004

While I respect anyone's right to deplore the shameful content of "The Birth of a Nation" ("Showing of 'Birth of Nation' Canceled," by Greg Braxton, Aug. 10), I wonder if the fear of its public presentation inspiring hate crimes credits the movie with more evil power than it would truly possess for a contemporary audience. I feel that any adult in 2004 who might view the 1915 film and fail to recognize the horrible racism that blights Griffith's epic must have been already wearing a white sheet when he entered the theater.

But the most recently scheduled "Birth" screening has been canceled, not, as activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson so disingenuously put it, because the theater owner had "respect for the community," but because apparently certain anonymous members of that community made threats against the theater owner's life and property. Therefore, as things stand, any future hate crimes to be perpetrated by persons viewing "Birth of a Nation" must remain pure supposition, whereas the only hate crimes of which we can be absolutely certain have now been committed by those who would deny such an audience its freedom to exist.

Preston Neal Jones



It's true that the portrayal of blacks in D.W. Griffith's Civil War epic "Birth of a Nation" is despicable, but the film itself is notable for its innovative cinematic techniques, which is why it has been part of the film-studies canon and, therefore, has redeeming artistic value. To censor it from public viewing simply amounts to censorship.

Since this is the second time the film has been yanked due to protest, I have a suggestion for the program director at the Silent Film Theatre: Reschedule "Birth of a Nation" with all proceeds going to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group that advocates the teaching of tolerance.

John Burke



I certainly did not know that during a drive from San Gabriel Valley to West Hollywood, somewhere along the way I would lose my rights as an American citizen to watch or listen to anything I choose to see. I very much wanted to see this silent movie because of its historical value and to listen to the organ played by a 92-year-old who has performed for silent movies for many years. For people like Geraldine Washington and Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who profess to protect civil rights and freedom, to be able to stop this production is just a little like book burning and censorship practiced in supposedly fascist and communist countries. I didn't know I had driven that far.

Dennis Beito



In a time when most people can't be paid to watch a black-and-white film, much less a silent one, it is hard to imagine a contemporary audience for the 1915 "Birth of a Nation" beyond film buffs and the curious. That being said, the idea that the film will somehow motivate hate crimes is ludicrous. The real issue is censorship, which everyone always opposes until they are the ones offended.

Any informed person knows that many, if not most, of the movies of the past are rife with racial and sexual stereotypes, which are appalling today but were then considered acceptable. That is part of their value -- even the worst movie is representative of the time and the culture it came from, and has educational and historical value.

What's the plan, to ban them all? If the open exchange that took place at the Silent Movie Theatre had accompanied an actual screening, something resembling communication might have occurred, instead of an empty exercise in political correctness.

Randy Henderson

Valley Village

Los Angeles Times Articles