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HISTORY

Although this film is not listed in the Cumulative Copyright Catalog of Motion Pictures, 1912-1939 , information on an existing print states that it was copyrighted in 1918. The Birth of a Race Photoplay Corp., located in Chicago and organized on 12 Jul 1916, contracted with the Selig Polyscope Co. to produce this film. According to Motog 17 Mar 1917, the late Booker T. Washington was interested in the possibility of portraying "the race story of the negro" in a sympathetic manner, but by the beginning of World War I, the original idea had been expanded to trace "all the factors in the life of America which have contributed to making the American people almost a race in themselves." The theme by then had been changed to the development of the idea of democracy and the threat to that idea by the autocratic powers of Europe. The prologue, which includes nudity in several scenes, may have been added at this point. According to Var , an executive of the Selig company stated that the film originally was intended "as an answer to alleged racial prejudice said to have been created by [D. W.] Griffith's The Birth of a Nation ." The Selig executive asserted that the contract was canceled before production began because the Birth of a Race Photoplay Corp. failed to raise enough money by an agreed upon time. In another Var article, the Birth of a Race Photoplay Corp. claimed that the contract was canceled because Selig's studios were inadequate to make the film. Frohman Amusement Corp.orp. then agreed to produce the ... More Less

Although this film is not listed in the Cumulative Copyright Catalog of Motion Pictures, 1912-1939 , information on an existing print states that it was copyrighted in 1918. The Birth of a Race Photoplay Corp., located in Chicago and organized on 12 Jul 1916, contracted with the Selig Polyscope Co. to produce this film. According to Motog 17 Mar 1917, the late Booker T. Washington was interested in the possibility of portraying "the race story of the negro" in a sympathetic manner, but by the beginning of World War I, the original idea had been expanded to trace "all the factors in the life of America which have contributed to making the American people almost a race in themselves." The theme by then had been changed to the development of the idea of democracy and the threat to that idea by the autocratic powers of Europe. The prologue, which includes nudity in several scenes, may have been added at this point. According to Var , an executive of the Selig company stated that the film originally was intended "as an answer to alleged racial prejudice said to have been created by [D. W.] Griffith's The Birth of a Nation ." The Selig executive asserted that the contract was canceled before production began because the Birth of a Race Photoplay Corp. failed to raise enough money by an agreed upon time. In another Var article, the Birth of a Race Photoplay Corp. claimed that the contract was canceled because Selig's studios were inadequate to make the film. Frohman Amusement Corp.orp. then agreed to produce the film in their Tampa, FL studios. More than half of it was made by Feb 1918, when officials of the fiscal agents for the Birth of a Race Photoplay Corp. were arrested and charged with violations of the "blue sky" law for failing to take out a state license to sell stock. According to Var , most of the stock was sold to blacks in Chicago. Although the fine was paid, Frohman canceled the agreement to produce the film in Mar 1918. Their staff, including director-in-chief John W. Noble, and their facilities in Tampa were turned over to the promoters to finish the film. According to Var , after the armistice, the film was to be called The Story of a Great Peace , but the original title was retained. The film had its premiere at Chicago's Blackstone Theatre on 1 Dec 1918. In addition to the filming in Tampa, some scenes were shot in Chicago and New York. According to Var , George Le Guerre played the role of Oscar Schmidt. Joseph Carl Breil, who scored The Birth of a Nation , composed the music for this film. Modern sources note that the idea for a film about the black race originated at the New York office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the spring of 1915 after the premiere of the Griffith film. This idea was changed by the white-owned Birth of a Race Photoplay Corp. because of the need to attract backers other than blacks, and because of the United States' entrance into the war. Modern sources also state that the film, as originally intended, was to have been called Lincoln's Dream . More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
ETR
10 May 19
p. 1761.
Motog
17 Mar 17
p. 584.
Motog
2 Mar 18
p. 435.
MPN
3 May 19
p. 2891.
MPW
23 Feb 18
p. 1111.
MPW
9 Mar 18
p. 1353.
MPW
10 May 19
p. 938.
NYDM
16 Feb 18
p. 17.
NYDM
23 Nov 18
p. 776.
Variety
12 Oct 17
p. 29.
Variety
8 Feb 18
p. 45.
Variety
22 Feb 18
p. 48.
Variety
22 Mar 18
p. 58.
Variety
6 Dec 18
p. 38.
Variety
25 Apr 19
p. 82.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Story of a Great Peace
Release Date:
1 December 1918
Physical Properties:
Silent
Black and White
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

After a biblical and historical prologue detailing the evolution of the idea of democracy through the creation of the world, the flood, the crucifixion of Christ, the discovery of America, the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Civil War, the present-day threat to this idea by autocratic powers is dramatized. Fritz Schmidt, a German-American steel plant owner, and his son Oscar remain loyal to the Kaiser, while son George fights for the Allies. When the American army hospital where Louisa Schmidt works as a nurse is attacked by the Germans, Oscar, now a German soldier, assaults her, not recognizing his sister in the confusion. George, recovering in the hospital, kills his brother and then returns home to find his mother and a German spy struggling for some secret papers. George kills the spy, Fritz realigns his loyalty to the American cause, and the family is ... +


After a biblical and historical prologue detailing the evolution of the idea of democracy through the creation of the world, the flood, the crucifixion of Christ, the discovery of America, the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Civil War, the present-day threat to this idea by autocratic powers is dramatized. Fritz Schmidt, a German-American steel plant owner, and his son Oscar remain loyal to the Kaiser, while son George fights for the Allies. When the American army hospital where Louisa Schmidt works as a nurse is attacked by the Germans, Oscar, now a German soldier, assaults her, not recognizing his sister in the confusion. George, recovering in the hospital, kills his brother and then returns home to find his mother and a German spy struggling for some secret papers. George kills the spy, Fritz realigns his loyalty to the American cause, and the family is reunited. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.