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Birth of a Nation (1915)

The hero of director D.W. Griffith's cinematic masterpiece—a record-breaking, box-office hit from the early twentieth century—is a white southerner who helps form the Ku Klux Klan to free the South from the supposed tyranny of Reconstruction-era blacks. The film, with its electrifying performances, spectacular special effects, and provocative story, captivated white audiences and drew vigorous protests from African-American civil rights organizations such as the NAACP. Like Gone With the Wind twenty years later, Birth shaped the public's ideas about race, racial crime, and the legacies of the Civil War and Reconstruction. This is a must-see for any student of American history, as it illustrates the sort of racism that helped justify and sustain institutionalized segregation in the United States.

Gone With the Wind (1939)

Based on the best-selling novel by Georgia-born author Margaret Matchell, this hit Hollywood romance about the American South during and after the Civil War did a great deal, like Birth of a Nation, to shape twentieth-century attitudes about race and the legacies of slavery, the war, and Radical Reconstruction. Historical accuracy is probably not the film's strong suit, but it remains one of the most popular Hollywood pictures of all time.

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

In some ways, this film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood could be described as a modern day Birth of a Nation. Josey Wales remains loyal to the Confederacy after its defeat in the Civil War and utilizes unlawful means to avenge the death and destruction he witnesses. But where the hero of Birth of a Nation ends up victorious, Wales's fate is not so certain. What will happen to the farmer turned guerrilla fighter?

Aftershock: Beyond the Civil War (2006)

Using dramatic reenactments, archival photographs, and historical texts, the History Channel presents an unsettling glimpse of the world of the post-Civil War South. The film is focused squarely on the crimes of racial hate and vengeance that plagued former slaves and those sympathetic to the Radical Republican agenda. Thus, Aftershock offers a somewhat exaggerated and one-dimensional account of Reconstruction. Still, it's one of the more riveting documentaries about the tumultuous post-Civil War years.

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