FALL OF A NATION: Hollywood’s First Sequel?

An examination of what movie holds the title of the first true sequel.

I hate writing about a movie I haven't seen, but with silent films there is often no other option - 80% of all silent films ever made are considered lost, with no known copy in existence. One of these is Thomas Dixon Jr's Fall of a Nation, a follow-up to DW Griffith's  Birth of a Nation, and possibly the first Hollywood sequel. 

I say possibly because a lot of this is going to depend on how you define a sequel. Dixon wrote The Clansman, the book on which Birth of a Nation was based, and as soon as that became popular he started working on a new novel, one that didn't pick up after the events of Reconstruction, where the first book ended, but rather in the then-modern day. And if The Clansman was racist propaganda, Fall of a Nation was pro-war scifi propaganda. It picks up days after the sinking of the Lusitania and portrays a world where pacifiism rules the United States, allowing the Hun to overrun Europe and turn his eye on the US - which he brutally invades and conquers. In the end of Congressman and a suffragette join forces to raise an army and expel the invaders. 

Dixon directed the movie himself, and while it's not a direct sequel - it doesn't have any characters from Birth of a Nation - it does establish the peculiar aspect of sequels where they retread the original. For his film Dixon returned to the exact locations where Griffith shot Birth and filmed his own battle scenes. Superstition? A sense the locations would tie the two films together? We don't know, and without access to the movie we don't have any way of judging. 

Fall of a Nation was released a year after the original and was successful, but in no way the major hit that Birth was. Dixon had set up his own production company to make Fall of a Nation, and had other movies in the works, but it folded before producing any more. Dixon was involved in other adaptations of his novels, and he directed another movie, but his name more or less fades from the history books.

So is Fall of a Nation actually a sequel? It's hard to make a strong claim - it feels more like a cash-in. The title of Dixon's novel in full is Fall of a Nation: The Sequel to Birth of a Nation, but the book seems to have been written specifically to capitalize off the title of Birth of a Nation, especially since his original novel had been called The Clansman. If Fall isn't the first sequel, that title may go to Son of the Sheik, Rudolph Valentino's last film. It's the sequel to his culture-smashing hit The Sheik, and in The Son of the Sheik Valentino plays the child of his own character, 25 years after the events of the first film. The Sheik himself makes an appearance as well. This continuity of characters and story makes Son of the Sheik feel much more like a true sequel. What's more, due to Valentino's enduring popularity, Son of the Sheik has not joined Fall of a Nation on the list of lost films.