Wherever it goes, the Birth of the Nation film arouses widespread indignation. In Boston the excitement has been at white heat, because of a series of hearings before Mayor, Governor, and a committee of the Legislature. A judge has been found with authority and courage enough to cut out the most objectionable scene. The press has been full of arguments for and against the film and the proposed legislation. Many clergymen have preached about the play; and ex-President Eliot, speaking in a Cambridge church, was one of those who protested against its falsification of history. Never before have the colored people of Boston been so united and determined, or appeared to better advantage, and their white friends have rallied in great force to their aid. Gov. Walsh, ex-Congressman McCall, and Lieut. Gov. Cushing have spoken out emphatically against permitting the play to continue, though the Mayor sided with the producers—as the Mayor of New York has failed to recognize in his utterances the gravity of the situation, or to rise to the emergency, being content with the promise of certain slight excisions, which appear to be of little or no value. The play continues to do its devilish work of misrepresentation and of arousing race hatred.
That Mayor Mitchel has had little legal authority to deal with the play is admitted, though there are differences of opinion as to just what powers were available. But this alleged lack of authority is to be remedied by an ordinance now before the Board of Aldermen to empower the Commissioner of Licenses to revoke, suspend, or annul any moving-picture license “for cause after a trial.” The ordinance further reads:
Proof shall be taken before the Commissioner of Licenses upon notice of not less than two days to the proprietor, manager, or person in charge of said place, to show cause why such license should not be revoked, annulled, or suspended. The Commissioner of Licenses shall hear the proofs and allegations in each case, and determine the same, and any place the license for which shall have been revoked, annulled, or suspended shall not thereafter be licensed again to the same licensee within one year, under the provisions of said sections. On any examination before a Commissioner of Licenses, pursuant to a notice to show cause as aforesaid, the accused party may be a witness in his own behalf.
This plainly constitutes the Commissioner of Licenses a censor of all moving-picture plays, precisely as the Mayor of every town in Massachusetts, except Boston, now has similar powers. That the plan has its defects is obvious, for a Commissioner of Licenses with bad judgment might work a considerable amount of harm.