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Ethnic Notions Directed by Marlon Riggs and Birth of a Nation Directed by D.W. Griffith: A Comparative Study

In the film “Ethnic Notions” and “Birth of a Nation” racism is clearly present. Both films show the depiction of blacks in the eyes of white Americans. The film “Birth of a Nation” showed the Ku Klux Klan’s hatred for all African Americans, while “Ethnic Notions” took the viewer through the history of some of the common terms for blacks. Some of the terms are “Mammy”, “Coon”, and the Tom. With such characters as the “Coon”, the producers set out to make this characters main goal to give amusement to others. He is shown as a complete buffoon that acted like a screwball. This character had his hair stand on its ends, and he was completely harmless to others.

“Ethnic Notions” is a historical film that takes the viewer through the entire course of American history from the 1820s to the 1980s. The songs, watching the films and seeing all the artifacts is what makes this film such a powerful tool. The film describes some of the terms that were used to depict African Americans. Well into the twentieth century the “Mammy”, the “Coon”, and the “Sambo” were all terms used in reference to black Americans.

In the film “Birth of a Nation” all of the African Americans are seen as villains, while all whites are viewed upon as heroes. The African Americans danced and performed for their masters. The film tells a story about the old south and the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan. Once a law was passed that made whites salute black officers on the streets, and interracial marriages between blacks and whites made the whites seem to be a helpless minority. This is when a group of men covered in sheets and white hoods fought the blacks. When the hooded white men beat the blacks they were looked at as the defenders of the white women, honor, and glory. These men were praised when they restored order and their white supremacy. This is where the title “Birth of a Nation” comes from along with the birth of the Ku Klux Klan.

Both of these films show many misrepresentations of African Americans. In “Birth of a Nation” the “Mammy” is shown with “blackface” played by a white actress. In films the role of the “Mammy” was a servant that was stereotypically a very dark and heavy set woman that had her priorities set to doing whatever her master or mistress wished. “Mammy” was shown as a loyal person that was protective over the white household. She was a powerful person which became a stable figure in each image of the south. The “Mammy” is very alike the “Coon”, but the “Mammy” is shown as being totally independent and asexual. All throughout “Ethnic Notions” the “Mammy” and the “Coon” were shown as humorous and entertaining. These stereotypes show the African American characters to being inferior and subordinate to the white race

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