Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film and the Possibility of Black Modernity
“A Vicious and Hurtful Play”: The Birth of a Nation and The New Era, 1915
2015. "“A Vicious and Hurtful Play”: The Birth of a Nation and The New Era, 1915", Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film and the Possibility of Black Modernity, Allyson Nadia Field
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This chapter analyzes the Hampton short The New Era and its use as an epilogue for certain screenings of The Birth of a Nation in 1915. Here, the industrial filmmaking of Hampton met mainstream commercial filmmaking, resulting in a barrage of criticism against the institute for its association with Griffith’s racist epic. This chapter shows how the controversy brought to the fore the underlying tensions in the representational aspect of the uplift project and underscored the problems of cinematic complicity in the perpetuation of social inequity. This chapter further argues that the controversy exposed Hampton’s naive faith in the power of a positive image (The New Era) to challenge a negative one (The Birth of a Nation), producing a sustained crisis in the cinematic promotion of African American modernization and the rhetoric of uplift. In doing so, the chapter also provides a fuller picture of how Griffith’s film was received and responded to by contemporary Black audiences and communities.