As D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” contributed to the Ku Klux Klan’s resurgence nearly 100 years ago, pioneering Black newspaper editor and activist William Monroe Trotter fought to ban the film in his native Boston. An upcoming PBS doc will explore his battle against the infamous 1915 film.
“Birth of a Movement” focuses on Trotter’s mobilization of community protests, which included an attempt to see the movie with supporters that ended in a scuffle and his arrest. These protests were part of a career spent critiquing segregationist policy that included founding and editing The Boston Guardian, criticizing Booker T. Washington, helping to create the NAACP and leading the National Equal Rights League. Trotter’s activism grew into a broader movement to combat the film’s violent aftermath.
The documentary premieres February 6 at 10 p.m. as part of PBS’ “Independent Lens” series. Susan Grey and Bestor Cram (“Circus Without Borders”) directed and produced the movie. It features contributions from Henry Louis Gates Jr., Reginald Hudlin, Spike Lee and DJ Spooky (who previously composed a remix and rescoring of the original film).