Premiered at Clune's Auditorium in Los Angeles, February 8, 1915, under the title THE CLANSMAN. Premiered in New York City at the Liberty Theater on March 3, 1915, as THE BIRTH OF A NATION. The film toured the rest of the country as a road show attraction.
In 1906, the same Liberty Theater had housed a run of Thomas Dixon's stage play, THE CLANSMAN, which was one of the sources for the film. At the New York premiere, Dixon stated that he would have "allowed none but the son of a Confederate soldier to direct the film version of THE CLANSMAN." (New York Times, 3/4/1915)
THE BIRTH OF A NATION was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1992.
The film originally ran 13,058 feet on 12 reels. At 16 frames per second, it ran approximately 185 minutes.
This landmark cinematic achievement features the first use of now-standard techniques like cross-cutting and deep focus, as well as the unprecedented long shot of the Lincoln assassination and a color sequence at the end.
THE BIRTH OF A NATION was originally silent with a musical score. In 1930, the film was reissued with sound effects and synchronized music adapted from Joseph Carl Breil's original score, but at a much shorter length--108 minutes. Current prints run between 108 and 185 minutes, sometimes due to deleted footage, sometimes due to incorrect projection speeds.
At some theaters, ticket prices cost up to $2 per seat, a record figure at the time. THE BIRTH OF A NATION was also reportedly the first film to utilize ushers.
The film reportedly made $20 million dollars at the box office. Because the film's rights were simply sold outright in some states, accurate figures are difficult to obtain, and the film may have actually grossed $50 to $100 million.
Director D.W. Griffith shot this film without a script or even written notes, saying that he had visualized the entire movie in his mind.
One scene deleted from the end of the film professes to depict "Lincoln's Solution," in which African-Americans are shipped back to Africa, while Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ look approvingly on.
From the moment the film premiered, the NAACP organized mass demonstrations against THE BIRTH OF A NATION; not only did black people object to its racial stereotypes, but they feared that its glorification of the Klan would lead to increased violence against African-Americans. In fact, the Klan used THE BIRTH OF A NATION to recruit new members, and its ranks supposedly swelled after screenings of the film.
Estimated cost: $110,000.
THE BIRTH OF A RACE was produced by a group of independent black filmmakers in response to THE BIRTH OF A NATION. Filmed in Florida, New York, and Chicago, it cost $500,000, nearly five times THE BIRTH OF A NATION's budget, and was at least partially funded by the sale of stock. Released in 1918, it was panned by Variety, who stated that it was "replete with historical inaccuracies, gross exaggerations, and bromidic appeals to patriotism," noting that the film was "full of rape, murder, and suicide." The film was directed by John W. Noble and written by Noble and Rudolph de Cordoba. It starred John Reinhardt, Jane Grey, George Le Guerre, Ben Hendricks, Gertrude Braun, and Mary Kennevan.