Movie Review: Birth of a Movement (2017)

TitleBirth of a Movement
Release Date: February 6, 2017
Director: Susan Gray and Bestor Cram
Production Company: Northern Light Productions

This documentary is about William Monroe Trotter, a civil rights leader and newspaper editor in Boston in the early 20th century.  Raised in a well-to-do family and Harvard educated, Trotter advocated for more radical civil rights activism than his peers such as Booker T. Washington.  He participated in founding the NAACP, but ultimately did not find it radical enough.

The documentary is also about D.W. Griffith, the groundbreaking filmmaker, who made the first Hollywood blockbuster in 1915.  Released 50 years after the end of the Civil War and based on a novel  called The Clansman, the film was eventually re-titled Birth of Nation. The movie depicts the Civil War through a sympathetic portrayal of the insurgent Southerners.  The post-war Reconstruction is depicted as a time when bestial, sexually-aggressive Black men (portrayed by white actors in blackface) ran rampant until the Ku Klux Klan restores order.

The movie gained widespread acclaim and opposition as Griffith opened it in cities across the country, and even held the first ever film screening in the White House for President Woodrow Wilson.  Knowing that Boston had a history of supporting abolition and Black civil rights, Griffith targeted the city for an opening knowing that success there would lead to widespread distribution of the film.  Trotter organized massive protests against the film’s opening at Tremont Theatre across from Boston Common.  While the protests failed to stop the screening, Trotter’s protests did invigorate a new direction for Black civil rights activism.

Rating: ****

3 thoughts on “Movie Review: Birth of a Movement (2017)

  1. Never saw Birth of a Nation and never wanted to, as its premise is ludicrous, but I can see where fearmongers would use it as a tool to sway the weak-minded. This looks like a good documentary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I’ve known about Birth of a Nation since my high school film studies class, and as much as I’m interested in film history, I will never be able to watch this movie. I recently ordered a copy of the book “Black Radical : The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter” by Kerri K. Greenidge and I’m looking forward to learning more about Trotter because even here in Boston he’s not as well known as he should be.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They need to, instead of tearing down the old statues, do two things: 1) Change the plaques on them to reflect their place in committing evils acts (thanks Jon Stewart for the idea by extension) and 2) Erect statues next to them of the unsung (until now) heroes of the world. Kids must learn the truth.


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