This melodrama is supposed to redeem the racist bigot Griffith??? His "Yellowman" character, he also refers to as a "chink", or affectionately, "Chinky". Played by a white actor, of course. Another white actor, face covered in shoe polish, adds a bit more color to his racial stereotypes. Why couldn't he at least hire real Black or Chinese people to realize his racist images? I love silent cinema but not Griffith.
I don't see the racism in here: it was the Yellow peril years, and Griffith made the good be represented by the chinese character (what's the problem in the actor beeing not-asian?). It's quite brutal, and sweet, and like always is a delight watch Gish in this type of characters.
A lovely film, lyrical and imperfect. Some of the acting is campy, and casting a white man as the Asian hero is a cringe-worthy artifact of 1919. But Richard Barthelmess gives a silent performance for all time, capturing a gentle soul (of any race or none at all) getting worn down. And if the interracial romance is toned down from the source material, the idea is still presented in an empathetic light. Baby steps.
Cinematography by G. W. Bitzer. "Desire" list: It may seem strange that before one of the cinematic summits of the last century and one of the great Lillian Gish peaks, i come to pick it via Richard Barthlemess, but it is also the film in which he surpassed himself, a Hollywood figure of a Chinese who became an unique object-representation of the most absolute male poeticity.
I don't really understand why Birth of a Nation is Griffith's most famous work, except that it must have something to do with our love for controversy. Other Griffith films like Intolerance and this one, Broken Blossoms, show an artist a little bit more in tune with true human drama and tragedy than the mostly boring and then disturbingly racist Birth of a Nation. Lillian Gish is great here, as always.