Birth of a Race Photoplay Corporation

Birth of a Race Photoplay Corporation
Item# 4366

The Birth of a Race Photoplay Corporation was incorporated on July 12, 1916 in Delaware, with a capital of $1.000.000. to conduct film exchanges and deal in “moving picture films of ail kinds.” Original incorporators were Herhert E. Latter and N'irninn P. Coffin of Wilmington, Delaware, and Clement M. Egner of Elkton, Maryland.

The original intention of the producers was to make the film Birth of a Race as an answer to D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, which initiated a nationwide protest from blacks and whites because of its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan and its portrayal of blacks as subhuman.

The original intent of the producers was to adapt the screenplay from Dr. Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery, published in 1900. In describing the film, the company’s brochure stated in part that the picture would depict “the true story of the Negro, his life in Africa. His transportation to America, his enslavement, his freedom, his achievements, together with his past, present and future relations with his white neighbor.”

The Selig Polyscope Company of Chicago started production of Birth of a Race, but dropped out before the film was completed. The Frohman Amusement Company of New York City then took charge and continued, but also dropped out of the venture before completion. Various attempts were made to complete the picture through several independent film producers.

The film was finally completed at the Rothacker Film Manufacturing Company plant in Chicago. However, about half way through the production the original purpose of the film concerning the black experience in the United States was dropped and the theme of the film was changed to the story of the humankind with emphasis on Judeo-Christian religion. Also about this time the U. S. became involved in World War I and the producers decided to add anti-German propaganda to the film. In its final released version, Birth of a Race was not a black film and blacks were not prominent in the cast.

The film opened to mixed reviews in Chicago for a month’s run at the Blackstone Theatre in Chicago. The May 10, 1919, edition of The Moving Picture World had the following to say:

“A few words will suffice to do justice to The Birth of a Race. Starting with the creation, it attempts to follow the development of mankind down to the present day, and throws in a disconnected war story for good measure. About everything has been applied to the production by common sense. There are numerous scenes from sacred history, which employ mammoth sets, large mobs and the services of actors of established reputation. The garden of Eden, The Tribes of Noah’s Time, the Land of Egypt, Jerusalem at the time of Christ, and down to the present are presented at an outlay of time, labor and money that are astonishing and all to no artistic purpose. The structure is without form and is a striking example of what a photoplay should not be. The disconnected modern story is no better than the biblical history in its handling. The producers have attempted to impress by bulk and have been overwhelmed by their lack of skill.

The names of three men are given as the authors of the scenario it will be a deed of charity not to reveal their identity nor the names of the members of the cast. All have well-earned reputations and are probably anxious to live down their connection with the entire affair.”

The film was a bitter disappointment to Emmett J. Scott and thousands of other black investors in Chicago and other cities who has bought stock in the picture. The following review published in the December 6, 1918, of Variety had the following to say:

”The venture was a conceived…by a group of promoters who were lured by the pinnacle attained by David W. Griffith…. Griffith was content with chronicling the birth of a nation. This group…proposed to take in a race.

For stock selling purposes, that race was the Negro race. The picture was started on the premise of nationwide defense of the Negro…

A lot of stock was sold. Everything went along swimmingly…and the production was about to get started when America got into the war.

The new issue dwarfed the scope of the production. The Selig Company…dropped out. It was said their refusal to film the picture was due to the character of its propaganda. Where upon the character of the picture was altered, and it was arranged that the Froman Company...was to film it.

That, too, fell through. More stock was sold another scenario was written. A large quantity of the film picturing the advancement of the Negro race was dropped.”

Certificate: Capital Stock, issued in the 1910’s

Printer: Goes

Dimensions: 8 1/4” (h) x 11” (w)

State: DE-Delaware

Subject Matter: Sports and Entertainment | Motion Pictures

Vignette Topic(s): Eternal Flame Featured

Condition: Vertical fold lines, no cancels, and some toning and edge faults from age.

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