It sucks that The Birth of a Nation had to be so goddamned racist. It came early enough in the game and has enough innovation to make it undeniably important to film history but it's almost impossible to discuss.
Film historian: "In the battle scenes for instance..."
Student: "Wait, isn't this the movie where the klan are portrayed as good and the freed slaves as bad?"
Film historian: [nervous laughter] "Well, yes, but..."
Student: "And the black people are all portrayed as either lazy and deceitful or outright Uncle Toms?"
Film historian: [clearing throat] "Um, yes, that's true, but..."
Student: "And it ends with a shot of the klan drawing guns on black people to keep them from voting and the shot is presented in a comical way? And then Jesus appears, condoning the whole thing, right?"
Film historian: [coughs, adjusts collar] "Like I was saying about Citizen Kane..."
Really, fuck you, Griffith.
I wrote a whole piece on it years ago where I tried to convince the reader it shouldn't be taught at all but, honestly, I don't know that I even convinced myself. I just find it hard to believe sometimes that of all the early full-length feature films that clearly helped invent the language of modern film, the most important early one happened to be based on a racist novel by a dimwitted racist asshole named Thomas Dixon. So now we're stuck with it. Do you know how many movies in the two or three years surrounding 1914, 15 and 16 had no plot devices whatsoever concerning evil, scheming black men battling saintly klansmen? All of them, that's how many! But this had to be the one that, on the technical side of things, did it all right. And, man, that just sucks.