William Monroe Trotter’s fight to keep D.W. Griffith’s infamous 1915 film, “The Birth of a Nation,” out of theaters forms the basis of the documentary, “Birth of a Movement.”

PBS aired the documentary last night (February 6) as part of its “Independent Lens” series. The hour-long film depicts Trotter, a Black, Boston-based newspaper editor and activist who organized protests against Griffith’s Ku Klux Klan-celebrating movie and sought to have it banned in his city.

One action depicted in “Birth of a Movement” involves Trotter leading a group of local NAACP members to see Griffith’s movie at a theater that did not sell tickets to Black people. When Trotter tried to purchase tickets in the lobby, a plainclothes police officer punched and arrested him. News of his arrest, combined with subsequent actions and speeches, galvanized support to ban “The Birth of a Nation” in Boston and beyond. 

Susan Grey and Bestor Cram (“Circus Without Borders”) co-directed and produced “Birth of a Movement.” The documentary features contributions from Henry Louis Gates Jr., Reginald HudlinSpike Lee and DJ Spooky (who previously composed a remix and new score of Griffith’s film). Watch “Birth of a Movement” in full above courtesy of PBS.com, where it will stream for free through March 9.