D. W. Griffith
David Llewelyn Wark Griffith was a premier pioneering American film director. He is best known as the director of the controversial and groundbreaking 1915 film The Birth of a Nation and the subsequent film Intolerance. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation made pioneering use of advanced camera and narrative techniques, and its immense popularity set the stage for the dominance of the feature-length film. It also proved extremely controversial at the time and ever since for its negative depiction of Black Americans and their supporters, and its positive portrayal of slavery and the Ku Klux Klan. Griffith responded to his critics with his next film, Intolerance, intended to show the dangers of prejudiced thought and behavior. The film was not the financial success that its predecessor had been, but was received warmly by critics. Several of his later films were also successful, but high production, promotional, and roadshow costs often made his ventures commercial failures. Even so, he is generally considered one of the most important figures of early cinema.
Griffith, of Welsh ancestry, was born in La Grange, Kentucky to Jacob “Roaring Jake” Griffith and Mary Perkins Griffith. His father was a Confederate Army colonel in the American Civil War and a Kentucky legislator. He was raised as a Methodist. D. W. was educated by his older sister, Mattie, in a one-room country school. His father died when he was 7, upon which the family experienced serious financial hardships. At age fourteen, Griffith’s mother abandoned the farm and moved the family to Louisville where she opened a boarding house, which failed shortly after. Griffith left high school to help with the finances, taking a job first in a dry goods store, and later in a bookstore.
Griffith began his career as a hopeful playwright but met with little success; only one of his plays was accepted for a performance. Griffith decided instead to become an actor, and appeared in many plays as an extra.