Tag Archives: d. W. Griffith

Birth of a Nation

5 Oct

Nate Parker's Birth of a Nation is as much a harrowing historical drama as it is a commentary on modern violence and race relations in America

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation is as much a harrowing historical drama as it is a commentary on modern violence and race relations in America

Birth of a Nation, the much-anticipated dramatization of Nat Turner’s bloody 1831 slave rebellion, has great timing and relevance in its arrival, especially given the spate of the blue-on-black violence that has swept headlines and caused angry protests all over the country. The film is both a look forward and back, with the promise of a unified nation, where all are treated equal regardless of color. It serves as a grim, yet provocative probe into the relationships between humans, where one owns the other in the manner of livestock, and holds the power to do with as they please — including slaughter — with righteous impunity.

The film, which in its branding boldly reclaims the title from D. W. Griffith’s 1915 silent classic extolling the heroics of Confederates and Klansmen, also became the righteous answer to the “Oscars so white” outcry when it premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. It went on to score the biggest purse ($17.5 million) for any picture snapped up in the snowy hills of Park City. Cause and effect? Much like the young Nat (Tony Espinosa) experiencing prophetic dreams of his ancestors, the film from that moment on, whether it desired to or not, had become anointed and earmarked for some greater purpose.

Nat is born and grows up on a Virginia plantation filling the role of a playmate to the owner’s young son, Samuel Turner (Griffin Freeman), who in a decade or so will become Nat’s master. Because of such proximity, Nat (Nate Parker, who also directs the breakout project) learns to read, and due to his master’s over-indulgence in drink and poor fiscal standing, is passed from plantation to plantation to read the scripture to fellow slaves in an effort to help calm and motivate them in their work. It’s a plan that initially works for all involved, though Nat, head hung, becomes painfully aware that he’s selling his brother out, if even for the ephemeral moments of solace. Continue reading

Black Mass and D. W. Griffith

13 Nov

BOSTON — Dick Lehr is a calm spoken, reserved person who has walked the in the footsteps of some of the edgiest sociopaths of our time.

He is best known for “Black Mass” (2000), the acclaimed chronicle of “Whitey” Bulger he co-authored with Gerard O’Neill, which, as you know from all the traffic-halting filming and Johnny Depp sightings this summer, is finally getting spun into a movie.

In “Judgment Ridge” (2003), Lehr, and co-author Mitchell Zuckoff, explored the heinous thrill-kill murders of Dartmouth professors Half and Susanne Zantop in their remote New Hampshire home.

And back in 1979, when working at the Hartford Courant, Lehr infiltrated a meeting of David Duke and the KKK in Danbury, Connecticut, to debunk Duke’s claim that the Klan had a large and growing membership within the Nutmeg State.

Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger films a violent scene for "Black Mass" in Boston. (Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Lehr’s latest, “The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Director and a Crusading Editor Reignited America’s Civil War,” rewinds history back to 1915. It explores the conflict that played out between the groundbreaking director D.W. Griffith — whose notoriously polarizing film “Birth of a Nation” was on the verge of becoming the originalblockbuster — and journalist and activist William Monroe Trotter.  Continue reading