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D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, a fictional portrayal of the KKK’s founding, is America’s first blockbuster. It’s also a film laden with racist overtones, and, as Desmond Ang of Harvard University highlights in a recent American Economic Review article, a film that has had marked effects on racially-motivated violence.

Desmond joins EconoFact to discuss how the relative novelty of cinema at the turn of the 20th century, and the limited number of counties that had the wherewithal to show films, make it possible to identify how screenings of The Birth of a Nation increased the frequency of racial violence, and support for the KKK. He also highlights how news, and entertainment media today might be polarizing audiences.
Desmond is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School at Harvard University.