Radical Reconstruction in Hollywood

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On
the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony you'll hear lots of names tossed
around but you won't hear any mention of the man who did more than
anyone else to create the film industry in America; D.W. Griffith.

Before
Griffith's time, the early 1900s, the quality of motion pictures
was poor and films were too short to tell a complete story. D.W.
Griffith revolutionized filmmaking. His creations and achievements
are too lengthy to catalogue here but they include techniques such
as the close-up, the fade-out, panning shots, high-angle shots,
expanding and contracting a scene, the flashback, and crosscutting
to show simultaneous action. His revolutionary panoramic battle
scenes and tense dramatic action depictions have been copied by
most of the famous directors.

Griffith
is reported to have made 450 films and unlike some directors, he
survived the transition from silent to talking pictures. He also
established the careers of many famous actors and actresses. In
1920, Griffith, along with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and
Charlie Chaplin formed the United Artists Corporation, which has
grown into one of the largest filmmaking studios.

A
list of the one hundred most influential people in the history of
American filmmaking was recently compiled with the selections ranked
in order of influence. D.W. Griffith was in eighth place. Last year,
A&E's Biography series requested a panel of experts to determine
the one hundred most influential people of the millennium just ended.
Only four selections from the film industry were chosen, all from
the United States – Walt Disney, Charlie Chaplin, Steven Spielberg
and D.W. Griffith.

The
Academy Awards ceremony has always included the presentation of
an Oscar to the best director of the year. But in 1953, the Directors
Guild of America decided to create an award for those unique directors
who have a lifetime history of significant film achievements. These
directors would receive the highest honor the DGA could bestow,
the "D.W. Griffith Award". Recipients
of this special DGA award include such luminaries as Cecil B. DeMille,
Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman and John Huston.

When
Stanley Kubrick won this award, his acceptance speech included these
comments about D.W. Griffith: "He was instrumental in transforming
movies from the nickelodeon novelty to an art form. And he originated
and formalized much of the syntax of movie-making now taken for
granted.(Griffith) left us with an inspiring and intriguing legacy,
and the award in his name is one of the greatest honors a film director
can receive."

Recently,
however, the NAACP's Kweisi Mfume complained to DGA President, Jack
Shea, that one of Griffith's films is insensitive to blacks and
therefore Griffith was a racist. Mfume also complained that no Black
director has ever won this special award.

The
film in question,"The
Birth of a Nation
," is regarded as the greatest film of
the silent era. It begins in the 1700s, depicting pre-Civil War
events, the War itself, and goes on to chronicle Radical Reconstruction
in the South. Griffith, a Southerner, was born during Reconstruction
but was too young to remember it himself. However, his parents,
relatives and neighbors had only recently suffered through this
ill-advised social experiment and their bitter recollections of
demeaning events were impressed upon the young man's mind.

In
his film Griffith portrays the dark side of Radical Reconstruction.
He does not falsify history, but, to heighten dramatic effect, he
uses poetic license in his portrayal of the disruption of Southern
society. Characterizations of blacks in the film have been deemed
" racist" by today's politically correct standards. But,
are they more offensive than Hollywood's stereotyped portrayals
of White Southerners?

Incredibly,
the President of the DGA, Jack Shea, responded to Kweisi Mfume's
complaint by immediately changing the name of the D.W. Griffith
Award to the DGA Lifetime Achievement Award. Jack Shea acted alone
in making this decision claiming that "seeking a membership
vote would have been very unwieldy". Considering the outrage
expressed by DGA members, it is unlikely that the motion would have
survived a vote by the membership.

Interestingly,
this covert PC decision took place around the same time as the controversy
regarding the flying of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina
capitol. The Confederate flag incident was widely reported in the
national media but you would have been hard pressed to find a mention
of the DGA's furtive removal of Griffith's name from their highest
award.

The
National Society of Film Critics issued the following statement:
"The recasting of this honor, which had been awarded appropriately
in D.W. Griffith's name since 1953, is a depressing example of u2018political
correctness' as an erasure, and rewriting, of American film history,
causing a grave disservice to the reputation of a pioneering American
filmmaker."

The
change also brought angry responses from Europe. London-based film
historian, Kevin Brownlow wrote, "It's very childish to start
picking on something
somebody did 85 years ago and say, u2018That represents the man and,
therefore, we are not going to use his name again.' This is a man
who made 400 films before he made u2018The Birth of a Nation,' let alone
all the others he made afterward. This is the man who shot the feature
film that caused the big theaters to be built, the feature to become
standard and the middle class to be won over to motion pictures.
Without Griffith, these fellows wouldn't be working."

To
the Associated Press, Mr. Shea claimed that he consulted the DGA
Board before making his decision and he tried to justify his refusal
to seek input from the Guild's members. His rationalization was
pure PC: "As we approach a new millennium, the time is right
to create a new ultimate honor for film directors that better reflects
the sensibilities of our society at this time in our national history."

This
marks another effortless victory for the NAACP's ongoing, and highly
successful, campaign to remove from American culture anything it
finds displeasing. Kweisi Mfume apparently knew that Jack Shea was
the perfect patsy; a man without integrity, a moral jellyfish, who
single-handedly trashed the memory and reputation of D.W. Griffith,
whose prodigious achieve ments Mr. Shea could never hope to rival.

February
28, 2002

Gail
Jarvis [send
him mail
] is a CPA living in
Beaufort, SC, an unreconstructed Southerner, and an opponent of
big government.

LRC
needs your help to stay on the air.

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