FAIRNESS & JUSTICE
Determining the lasting impact on racial hatred and violence of a century-old movie
In the aftermath of the national racial justice protests that followed George Floyd’s killing last spring, HKS Assistant Professor Desmond Ang focused his research lens on the relationship between a century-old brutally racist movie, The Birth of a Nation, and white-supremacist violence. He discusses his working paper, “The Birth of a Nation: Media and Racial Hate,” in this interview. Ang measured the number of lynchings, race riots, and Ku Klux Klan recruitments that took place in counties where the movie was shown during its national roadshow from 1915 to 1919. He found that the film incited significant increases in racial violence: The roadshow counties were five times more likely to have a lynching or race riot and three times more likely to have a Klan chapter after the movie arrived than similar counties where it was not shown. And his research showed that these effects persist in those areas even today. Ang, who studies the intersection of race, education, and government, thought that studying the dangerous influence of the film could help people better understand the impact that media can have in spurring current hate crimes and violence.