The Supreme Picture of All Time! Birth of a Nation.
Rare, unrecorded 1921 poster for the re-release of American film director D. W.Griffiths’s 1915 epic silent film, The Birth of a Nation.
American film director D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation was an extravagant dramatization of the American Civil War and Reconstruction. Griffith’s epic movie was based on Thomas Dixon Jr.’s 1905 novel The Clansman.
Upon its release in 1915, Birth of a Nation was immediately controversial. The movie’s racist depiction of African Americans, and its heroic portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan, was divisive. The movie served as a propaganda vehicle for the KKK to promote their xenophobic, anti-immigration platform. Klansman would congregate and parade before showings of the film. Sometimes even the movie house ushers would attire themselves in the robes of the Klan. At the same time, the NAACP waged a long legal and activist-based battle against the film.
The enduring popularity of the film led to its re-release in 1921. The film was decidedly instrumental in the revival of the Ku Klux Klan in America, in the 1920s. One estimate is that, in part of the movie’s influence in American society, the membership rolls of the KKK had swelled to nearly 5-million members by the mid-1920s.¹
Large, striking, and bold, this unrecorded movie poster for Birth of a Nation was issued for its 1921 re-release. The poster is dramatically printed in red and black lettering, using oversized block lettering. All of its text is printed within a black border.
At that time the New York Mail hailed the film as “the Supreme Picture of All Time,” a sobriquet that here becomes the opening line for this c. 1921 poster. Reminding movie-goers in the 1920s of the epic film’s extraordinarily expensive production values, the poster boldly trumpets:
8th Wonder of the World
3 Years to Produce
A significant, sizable, and imposing artifact, this unrecorded c. 1921 Birth of Nation movie poster temporally parallels the reinvigoration of the Ku Klux Klan in America. Is it “Life Imitating Art” or “Art Imitating Life”?
Description: The Supreme Picture of All Time! Birth of a Nation.
[Np. c. 1921]. Large broadside, 29 by 41 inches, closely framed. Folds, trifle foxing. Fine.
Ref. 1. Kibler, Censoring Racial Ridicule: Irish, Jewish, and African American Struggles over Race and Representation, 1890–1930 (UNC Press, 2015).
Notes: With no imprint, film studio text, logos, or associated iconography, this film poster was likely as an example of job printing for a local movie house. Recently, a retired archivist who had catalogued D. W. Griffith’s personal collection of movie memorabilia informed us that of the numerous posters he had handled for this film, he had never seen the present example. BRB100976.