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August 22, 2004: Affirmative Action Should Not Keep Me From the Movies

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 Affirmative Action Should Not Keep Me From the Movies

Joy Childs - August 18, 2004



Last week began as it usually does - with an eye toward my usual full week of after-work activities.  I had plans to go to a movie or a concert practically every night of the week and the weekend.  My two passions in life are music and movies, you see, and as a single black, middle-aged professional (female), I finally can afford to indulge my passions any time I want.  And I want to a lot.  Just call me a music and film fanatic of the nth degree.


Only Monday night would be free, so as I was driving from work on Monday around 6:30 p.m., I decided I’d better stop and do my weekly errands on La Cienega before going to my home in the Fairfax area. 


It was around seven in the evening when I got a call on my cell phone from a friend who was calling to ask me if I’d be interested in going with her to a movie around eight.  This may not seem all that unusual.  When you consider, however, that this particular friend works in the heart of the movie industry at a company whose employees merely have to walk downstairs to the huge screens at their work site to see first-run movies most any night of the week but that she rarely takes advantage of this opportunity (I’ve long envied her), it still may not seem like a big deal.  But what made this a big deal was that her invitation was not just for some about-to-be-released movie but to a screening of “Birth of a Nation” at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax. 


“Oh yes,” she added, “and I hear the NAACP might be protesting the screening of it.  I’m just about to go and get the tickets.” 


“Great. I’ll finish my errands and meet you there around 7:50 – and do me a favor, call me when you get there,” I said, for no particular reason. 


All kinds of thoughts ran through my mind as I raced to finish my errands.  I couldn’t remember having ever seen the movie but I did remember hearing ‘bad’ things about it - mostly that it was racist in the most horrific way.  I didn’t care: I was excited about the prospect of ‘crossing the picket lines’ to see this movie.  In my mind’s eye I could see myself getting into a healthy intellectual debate with one of my protesting brothers/sisters about why the movie should or shouldn’t be screened and then walking into the screening with the protester and discussing it afterwards.


Armed with ‘I-don’t-care-what-the-critics-say, I’m-gonna-go-so-I-can-judge-the-movie-myself’ motto (which applies equally, by the way, to Ebert and Roeper, whom I watch religiously, and to the NAACP, whom I could not believe would condone any kind of censorship anyway - doesn’t that organization preach ACLU-like values about free speech?), I headed north on La Cienega, then headed over to Fairfax.  I was sure the ‘protest’ would be poorly attended and would only minimally impact the screening - until my cell phone rang again at 7:35.


“Joy, don’t bother to come over.  The movie’s been cancelled because of the protestors.” 


“Whaaaaatt?”  I screamed into the phone.  “Why?” 


“Well, one of the protestors told me that it’s up to those persons who were oppressed, not the oppressor, to decide whether that movie should be screened.”


Now, even though I’m a law graduate who studied the First Amendment in first year Constitutional Law, I’ve never been a rah-rah advocate for free speech - that is, until now.  When it comes to my movies and music, I’m a strict constructionist.  Free speech means just that.  How dare anyone - Ebert and Roeper, the NAACP - tell me I can’t see a movie, let alone take actions to prevent me from seeing any movie, just because they don’t like what it says and/or because it offends them?  I see any and every movie I wanna see and, no matter how bad/racist, racist/bad or just bad/bad a movie is, I never walk out.’  I’ve always figured I can register my opinion with my hands and feet.  Most importantly, though, to suggest, as one of my more Afro-centric brothers did, that ‘if history repeated itself, I, along with the protesters would likely feel the wrath of the modern-day KKK in ‘suits’, who share the racist ideology of this film’s creator’ strikes me as absurdly racist.


I was so very annoyed with the NAACP ‘protecting’ my rights while taking affirmative actions to destroy someone else’s First Amendment right to screen the movie and my right to see it or not that in protest I drove to a nearby video store in the Silent Movie Theatre district and rented it.


As of this date, I haven’t had the time to watch the three-hour video version, but that’s OK because I’m planning on renting it as long as it takes me not only to see it but to duplicate it so that others of my friends who want to see it can do so without having the NAACP ‘protect’ them.


You’re welcome to join us.



Copyright © 2004 – Joy Childs

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The venue in question...

Editor’s Note:


The audio of the NPR discussion of this on Weekend Edition with Scott Simon can be found here.  The Associated Press account is here.  UPI is here.  Of note also is Renée Graham in the Boston Globe here.




Released on February 8, 1915, at Clune's Auditorium in Los Angeles, under the original tide, The Clansman, then released on March 3, 1915, at the Liberty Theatre in New York City under its new and permanent name, The Birth of a Nation. The film was financed, filmed, and released by the new independent Epoch Producing Corporation of D.W. Griffith and Harry T. Aitken, in 12 reels of 35mm black-and-white film stock with chemical tinting, silent with music score written for live orchestra, 165 mins.  


  • Produced and Directed by David Wark Griffith
  • Written by D.W. Griffith and Frank E. Woods, based on the Thomas F. Dixon Jr. novels The Clansman and The Leopard's Spots
  • Original music by D.W. Griffith and Joseph Carl Breil
  • Music selections by Edvard Grieg from his "Peer Gynt suite: In the Hall of the Mountain King" and by Philip Phile from his "Hail Columbia" and by Richard Wagner from his "Ride of the Valkyries"
  • Cinematography by G.W. "Billy" Bitzer
  • Film Editing by D.W. Griffith , Joseph Henabery, James Smith, Rose Smith, Raoul Walsh


  • Spottiswoode Aitken as Dr. Cameron, father of the southern family
  • Josephine Crowell as Mrs. Cameron, mother
  • Henry B. Walthall as Ben Cameron, the "Little Colonel"
  • Miriam Cooper as Margaret Cameron, the older sister
  • Violet Wilkey as Flora Cameron, the younger sister (child)
  • Mae Marsh as Flora Cameron, the younger sister (older)
  • George Beranger as Wade Cameron, one of the "chums"
  • Maxfield Stanley as Duke Cameron, one of the "chums"
  • Ralph Lewis as Austin Stoneman, father of the northern family
  • Lillian Gish as Elsie Stoneman, the daughter
  • Elmer Clifton as Phil Stoneman, the older brother
  • Robert Harron as Tod Stoneman, the younger brother
  • Mary Alden as Lydia Brown, the mulatoo housekeeper
  • George Siegmann as Silas Lynch, the mulatoo carpetbagger
  • Walter Long as Gus, the renegade black soldier
  • Elmo Lincoln as "White-arm Joe" owner of the gin-mill
  • Wallace Reid as Jeff, the blacksmith
  • Joseph Henabery as Abraham Lincoln
  • Alberta Lee as Mrs. Lincoln
  • Donald Crisp as General Ulysses S. Grant
  • Howard Gaye as General Robert E. Lee
  • Jennie Lee as Mammy, the loyal servant
  • Lenore Cooper as Elsie's Maid
  • Sam De Grasse as Senator Sumner
  • William De Vaull as Jake
  • John Ford as Klansman
  • William Freeman as The Sentry
  • Olga Grey as Laura Keene
  • Bessie Love as Piedmont girl
  • Eugene Pallette as Union soldier
  • Charles Stevens as Volunteer
  • Madame Sul-Te-Wan as A Black Woman
  • Raoul Walsh as John Wilkes Booth
  • Tom Wilson as Stoneman's Servant
  • Erich von Stroheim as Man Shot from Roof


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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