Home > Uncategorized > Why was Griffith allowed to make movies again?

Why was Griffith allowed to make movies again?

I actually just watched D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation a few months ago (which, if you haven’t seen it, I would recommend not because it’s a particularly good film but because Griffith’s blatant rewriting of history will blow your mind), so I approached Martyrs of the Alamo with a decided amount of cynicsm. Griffith didn’t disappoint: within the first five minutes I was struck by the title cards’ constant references to Texans as “Liberty-loving Americans” who longed for the “days when the stars and stripes gave them the right to protection.” I’m sorry, what?? To the extent of my knowledge of Texas history, the American flag never officially flew over Texas up to this point. Following the Louisiana Purchase I believe there was some dispute as to whether or not Texas was included in that or if it still belonged to Mexico, but the battle at the Alamo was, undeniably, a fight for Texas independence from Mexico.

But I digress. What I legitimately did find interesting about Griffith’s decidedly lax portrayal of history was the way in which he addressed White femininity: as something which White men must protect from those hoodlum Mexican soldiers at any cost. Dickerson’s defense of his wife, “Silent” Smith’s checking on his “lady-love,” and the scene in which all the women are gathered together in a room while those brave, manly men went out to fight the hoodlum Mexican soldiers all display White women as damsels in distress and in desperate need of protection. I don’t want to give out any spoilers, but it’s the same basic story in Birth of a Nation, except that there the White women need to be protected from the sexually voracious Black men. White women are portrayed as pure and innocent and it is the inherent duty of White men to protect them at all costs.

I wrote a blog earlier this semester saying that I’d be interested to read the narrative of a White slave owner and compare its portrayal of slavery to the portrayals we’ve read from Harriet Jacobs and her peers. I wonder if maybe the narrative of a White slave owner wouldn’t read fairly similarly to Griffith’s movies, portraying the actions of slave owners as unpleasant necessities for the sake of protecting the women from danger at the hands of masculinity which is distinctly different from the hegemonic norm?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. April 18, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Really interesting to think that perhaps white men saw holding slaves as a way to protect their wives? Do you think maybe they felt like they had one of two options…let the voracious slave men run free or contain them? I have never read any accounts of white men asking slaves to watch over their wives, but I’m wondering if this happened at all.

  2. April 18, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    Concerning your first paragraph, I think it would be great to take a tour of the Alamo if you’re ever in San Antonio. It really is astounding to hear what the tour guides will tell you to wash over the darker origins of the battle.

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