From the editor: Dodge College acknowledges the experience of our students. We add the following to the continued discussion of the Birth of a Nation posters presently on display in Marion Knott Studios.
A Gift from Cecilia DeMille Presley
The two Birth of a Nation posters hanging in the first-floor hallway of Marion Knott Studios are part of a larger collection of artwork gifted to Dodge College by Cecilia DeMille Presley, the granddaughter of the legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille. In his estate were more than 45,000 pieces of film art and photographs, some of which were gifted to Chapman University, including the Birth of a Nation posters. The pieces were installed shortly after the completion of the building in 2007.
One of the Most Influential and Controversial Films in the History of American Cinema
Shrouded in controversy upon its release in 1915, due its graphic racism, celebration of prejudice and white supremacy, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (founded on Thomas Dixon’s 1905 novel The Clansman) has also been noted for its role in establishing a Hollywood aesthetic and breaking ground for the evolution of film language. It was entered into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1992. Another film was also entered into the registry that same year – Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates (1920), which responded to the discriminatory portrayal of African-Americans in Griffith’s film. While The Birth of a Nation remains a contentious example, to ignore its impact and position within film history, is to refuse to respond to the persistent and complex racial tensions that plague the United States today. We must not look away, rather learn from the mistakes of our past so that they are not repeated in our future. – Dr. Kelli Fuery, Assistant Professor, Film Theory
[Update, April 18, 2 p.m.]: Dodge College faculty will be voting to keep these posters on display or remove it in a meeting on Monday afternoon, April 22, 2019. We encourage students to email their professors with thoughts on this issue.
[Update, April 19, 12 p.m.] Dodge College will release the results of the faculty vote to the Chapman community by 5 p.m. on Monday, April 22, 2019.
[Update, April 22, 4:40 p.m.] By vote of the faculty today, Dodge College has removed the two posters related to THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915) and will return them to the donor. The faculty will continue to screen the film in appropriate classes, as well as explore ways outside of class to discuss race and other related issues. An official statement by the faculty on this decision will be released soon.
We want to hear from you. If you have ideas on what films or art you would like to see added to our walls in Marion Knott Studios, please submit your input to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow the Discussion
To read more about this discussion, please use the following links:
Published April 7, 2019: “Students advocate for removal of controversial film poster from Dodge College”
Published April 8, 2019: “History doesn’t excuse racism”
Published April 10, 2019: “Why I won’t take down the original ‘The Birth of a Nation’ poster”
Published April 14, 2019: “Chapman’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’ poster should be removed”
Published April 17, 2019: “At forum on controversial poster, some students have a message: ‘Take it down’”