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Birth of a Movement: The Battle Against America’s First Blockbuster 1x54

Birth of a Movement: The Battle Against America’s First Blockbuster is an historical documentary that tells the little-known story of William Monroe Trotter, a fire-breathing editor of a Boston black newspaper who helped launch a nationwide movement in 1915 to ban a flagrantly racist film, The Birth of a Nation. This film tells the story of a black civil rights movement few are familiar with—one that occurred a full 40 years before the one we know.

D.W. Griffith’s masterpiece The Birth of a Nation is credited with transforming Hollywood and pioneering many of the techniques that have made the feature film one of America’s most celebrated and widely exported cultural creations. The movie was also flagrantly racist and glorified the Ku Klux Klan as its central protagonist. But what is neither famous nor infamous is the way America reacted to this revolutionary film. While The Birth of a Nation was a box office smash that became the first motion picture ever to be screened at the White House, it proved divisive in a country still struggling in the aftermath of Civil War Reconstruction and galvanized leaders of the national African American community into adopting a more aggressive approach in their fight for equality.

Birth of a Movement interweaves the civil rights story of newspaperman Trotter and the years leading up to the release of The Birth of a Nation with the story of D.W. Griffith and the rise of a new medium, the feature film.