Which brings me to:
What I can and can’t excuse or overlook.
1. The Southern POV of the Civil War and Reconstruction can be portrayed sympathetically! Just because they lost doesn’t mean their story isn’t valid, or can’t be shown in a positive light. It’s the same way with depicting an ordinary family in Nazi Germany or a pro-Bolshevik family during the Russian Civil War. It can be done well, so long as there’s no historical revisionism.
2. Not ALL Southerners were or are racists! I only have to think of darling Oliver Hardy, whose father fought for the Confederacy. Ollie was a proud Georgia boy and Southerner his entire life, and didn’t have a racist bone in his body. He truly couldn’t understand racial prejudice, and left the South in protest after Leo Frank’s lynching. His first wife was also Jewish.
3. Not ALL Southerners owned slaves! The majority of Southerners were normal folks, not rich people living on massive estates with lots of slaves.
4. Many people in 1915 held less than enlightened views on race, but not all of them chose to express those views by cheerleading for the Klan and depicting African-Americans with all the ugliest tropes. There’s a huge difference between believing the races aren’t equal, but being civil towards African-Americans, and actively discriminating and perpetuating ugly stereotypes.
5. The Dunning School of Reconstruction is no longer accepted as historical truth. This is the view which is all over BOAN, this extreme black and white view of Southerners as sweet, innocent victims under the heel of “crazed Negroes” and radical Republicans from the North. (Democrats and Republicans in this era were the complete opposite of what they are today.) The Dunning School provided a justification for the Klan and Jim Crow.
6. This film brought the Klan back from the dead and was used as a recruiting tool at least as recently as 1979. Enough said.
7. It was common, accepted practice for white actors to play people of other races at this time. Taken in a historical context, I don’t particularly mind an obvious white person in blackface or made up to look Chinese. What was the alternative in that era? However, it makes me particularly uncomfortable to watch Walter Long (a great villainous character actor) in blackface, playing a would-be sexual predator stalking a sweet Southern virgin.
8. There’s no justification for the Klan, a domestic terrorist organization. It was never necessary at any point in history, and has always been a racist, criminal group.
9. D.W. Griffith really believed this was historically accurate, and didn’t understand why he was called a racist for showing the KKK as knights in shining armor or depicting African-Americans as sexual predators stalking white women; eating fried chicken, drinking liquor, and going barefoot in the Senate; happily shucking and jiving for their masters and enjoying slavery; and being uneducated and uncivilized. There’s a difference between living your own truth, and believing something completely ungrounded in fact and reality. We shouldn’t excuse a Shoah denier simply because s/he genuinely believes it never happened, particularly not when people have protested those views and tried to explain why they’re offensive.