DGA retires Griffith kudo, seeks new award name

Move comes as industry criticized for pushing stereotypes

Reflecting a sensitivity to race relations and changing awareness, the DGA is retiring its D.W. Griffith Award, prexy Jack Shea said Tuesday.

Another moniker for the career achievement honor will be chosen instead.

“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,” the Directors Guild of America president said. “There is no question that D.W. Griffith was a brilliant pioneer filmmaker. … However, it is also true that he helped foster intolerable racial stereotypes.”

Move to retire the Griffith name comes as the entertainment industry — particularly TV and film — faces attacks for what the NAACP and others have labeled its lack of ethnic diversity and insensitivity to racial issues.

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NAACP applause

NAACP president and CEO Kweisi Mfume praised the action: “I applaud the DGA for their move to discontinue the award. It is wrong to celebrate anyone who played such a negative role and who promoted negative images that we still fight against today.

“This move by the DGA helps lay to rest a protest that began 84 years ago, when the NAACP marched against ‘Birth of a Nation.’ I would encourage the Guild to replace Griffith’s award with an award named for a director of substance who has done the opposite of Griffith, and promoted understanding and tolerance.”

Dual legacy

Griffith’s technical contributions, creating cinematic devices such as the flashback and crosscutting, secured him a place as one of the great directors of all time, but his films also promoted negative racial images.

Born in rural Kentucky in 1875, Griffith was the son of a Confederate Army colonel. His 1915 epic “Birth of a Nation” originally premiered as “The Clansman.”

The D.W. Griffith Award has been presented to 28 directors in the past 46 years. It is given out only when the DGA National Board decides a director has earned the honor based on his or her body of work (a woman has yet to receive the award).

Past recipients have included Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Akira Kurosawa, Elia Kazan, Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Capra. The award’s first recipient was Cecil B. De Mille.

With the retirement of the Griffith Award, the DGA has voted to create a new career achievement nod. Like its predecessor, the honor will be given in recognition of a lifetime of distinguished achievement in motion picture direction. The new award has yet to be named.