The Birth of a Race

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The Birth of a Race
Newspaper advertisement.
Directed byJohn W. Noble
Rex Weber
Produced byEmmett Jay Scott
Music byJoseph Carl Breil
CinematographyHerbert Oswald Carleton
Distributed byGardiner Syndicate
Release date
  • December 1, 1918 (1918-12-01)
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent (English intertitles)
Scene from the film.

The Birth of a Race is a 1918 American silent drama film directed by John W. Noble. It was made as a response to the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, and was meant to discredit the negative stereotypes perpetuated by the film. Initially, it was intended to be a short answer film that could be appended to The Birth of a Nation in 1915 but a combination of weak financial backing and growing ambitions delayed its completion for more than two years.[1][2][3]

When finally released in December, 1918, following the end of World War I, The Birth of a Race was a two-hour feature length film, portraying the achievements of black people through history.[4] It premiered in Chicago in December, 1918, to great ballyhoo but was a commercial and critical failure.[5]

This film is preserved at the Library of Congress.[6]


Following the "Birth of the Human Race" section, the film had epic scenes of ancient Egypt with Nubian soldiers and the rescue of infant Moses in the river. A later scene portrayed Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry his cross on the Via Dolorosa and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.[4]

The film then shifted to World War I, with two white brothers in a German-American family going to war in Europe, one ("George") fighting for the United States, and the other ("Oscar") fighting for Germany. George is wounded, and at the hospital defends it from a German attack, killing Oscar in the process. George is sent home to America, where he rescues his wife from a German spy.

Cast (in credits order)[edit]


Filming on an Egyptian set in Tampa, 1918

Principal filming took place in Chicago and Tampa, Florida. Several outdoor scenes were filmed in Tampa in January, 1918, including ancient Egypt and the rescue of the infant Moses from a river and Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry his cross on the Via Dolorosa.[4]


Critics complained that the screenplay was muddled about two white brothers fighting on opposite sides in WWI. Birth of a Race also suffered at the box office due to its release just weeks after the end of WWI; audiences were no longer interested in seeing a war film.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Birth of a Race". The New York Times.
  2. ^ "The AFI Catalog of Feature Films: The Birth of a Race". AFI.
  3. ^ "The Birth of a Race".
  4. ^ a b c d Guzzo, Paul (November 16, 2018). "The would-be blockbuster shot in Tampa was supposed to combat racism. That was a century ago". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
  5. ^ Watkins, Mel, On the Real Side: A History of African American Comedy, Lawrence Hill Books, 1999, pg. 340
  6. ^ "The Birth of a Race". The Library of Congress American Silent Feature Film Survival Catalog.

External links[edit]