Citing the legendary director's racist themes in his films, including his masterpiece, Birth of a Nation, the DGA has announced it is renaming its most prestigious honor, the D.W. Griffith Award for lifetime achivement.
"There is no question that D.W. Griffith was a brilliant pioneer filmmaker whose innovations as a visionary film artist led the way for generations of directors," DGA President Jack Shea said in a statement. "However, it is also true that he helped foster intolerable racial stereotypes."
Released in 1915, The Birth of a Nation was originally called The Klansman, and portrayed blacks as villains in the South during the era of Reconstruction following the Civil War. The Ku Klux Klan emerge as the heroes of the film.
"It was the right thing to do," NAACP President Kweisi Mfume told Associated Press. "This award should have never been given under the name of D.W. Griffith. It was the NAACP that first protested in 1915 against Birth of a Nation. We've lived with the horrors that took place."
Many movie historians regard Griffith as a pioneer of the silent age for his expert recreations of Civil War battles and camera techniques, but his often degrading depiction of blacks in his 450-plus films has always stirred debate among film buffs--and naming an award after him doesn't jibe with these politically correct times.
"As we approach a new millennium, the time is right to create a new ultimate honor for film directors that better reflects the sensibilities of our society at this time in our national history," Shea said.
The DGA's D.W. Griffith Award was first given in 1953 for "distinguished achievement in motion picture direction." More than 28 directors, including Cecil B. DeMille, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick have been honored with the award.
Francis Ford Coppola was the last recipient. The guild, which voted unanimously to rename the award, has not yet announced the name of the replacement trophy.