The Birth of a Genre: Slavery on Film

David Blight’s “Birth of a Genre” presents an honest approach to the history of slavery on film. She begins by discussing the beginning of slavery on film. In the earliest representations of slavery, nearly every film presented slaves as loyal, “happy, contented, and well cared for” also as “joyous as a bunch of children.” This was most graciously shown in D.W. Griffith and Thomas Dixon’s Birth of a Nation in 1915. According to Blight, this film changed the way we view the history of this era today. This movie sent the message that “not only the blacks did not want their freedom, but also that emancipation had been America’s greatest disaster”. Blight then goes on to discuss more recent films that more honestly represent slavery. A few of these include Natalie Zemon Davis’ “Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision” and Orlando Bagwell’s “Africans in America”. Both of these films openly interpret what actually went on in the time of slavery. The obstacles  historians and film makers overcome include fitting one hundred years of history into a couple hour long segment. Blight concludes the article by addressing a large part of our history that is never spoken about and many people don’t even know.

The thing that struck me most about this article, is the facts that Blight discovered that we never knew. I have never heard that particular story about the origins of memorial day. The fact that former slaves went and built a graveyard around the burial grounds of white men that had fought for their slavery, is just incredible to me. Especially the fact, that I never knew before this. I am shocked at how much of our history is hidden from the knowledge of society. I can only hope that filmmakers continue to tell the truth and inform or nation of our history.

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