What's On: Independent Lens relives the furor over the first 'The Birth of a Nation' movie—in 1916

Matt Roush

The protest against “The Birth of a Nation” came to a head at the Tremont Theatre in Boston in 1915.

Birth of a Movement (10/9c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): When I was in college in the early ’80s, a campus screening of D.W. Griffith’s historic yet infamous 1916 epic The Birth of a Nation (with restored tints and an organ accompaniment) prompted protests and the hosting of an alternate, less splashy screening. I wish this engrossing, enlightening documentary had been around then to provide cultural context. Presented by Independent Lens, Movement (subtitled “The battle against America’s first blockbuster”) spotlights an early civil-rights campaign against the movie led by activist William Monroe Trotter, who was outraged by the movie’s blatant racism, including Griffith’s glorification of the Ku Klux Klan as heroes in post-Civil War America. Trotter would go on to be part of the leadership of a national network that grew into the NAAPC.

Gender Revolution: A Journey With Katie Couric (9/8c, National Geographic Channel): Another provocative documentary explores the fluid notion of gender in today’s society from scientific and cultural angles, with Couric interviewing researchers and activists and transgender persons of all ages and their families. The subject was the single topic of National Geographic’s January issue.

24: Legacy (8/7c, Fox): The action continues as Eric (Corey Hawkins) scrambles to find the money his fellow ex-soldier Ben Grimes (Charlie Hofheimer) is demanding for this season’s MacGuffin: a list of activation codes that would trigger sleeper cells to launch attacks nationwide. Eric’s scheme prompts one official to declare, “That’s crazy!” And he’s not wrong.

APB (9/8c, Fox): If you’re pining for CBS’s Pure Genius, you might check out this preposterous crime drama with a similar premise, employing the season’s most tiresome cliché—the visionary tech billionaire who imagines money will cure all of society’s ills. After his best friend is killed during a bodega robbery in one of Chicago’s sketchier neighborhoods, deep-pocketed Gideon Reeves (Justin Kirk) bullies the mayor into letting him take over an embattled, underfunded precinct to test “a revolution in law enforcement” that involves a rapid-response app and shiny new toys. As simplistically insulting as it is dramatically underwhelming, APB gives me the mean-street blues.

Inside Monday TV: CBS’s Superior Donuts moves to its regular time period (9/8c), surrounded by some of the worst comedies anywhere on TV. By comparison to shows as lazy as Man With a Plan and as pandering as 2 Broke Girls, there’s something charming about a show that imagines a storyline about bold new donut flavors could disguise the old-school jokes delivered by Judd Hirsch and newcomer Jermaine Fowler. … With Wyatt (Matt Lanter) in lockup, NBC’s Timeless team (10/9c) welcomes a new soldier to accompany them on a mission to 1920s Paris, where they cross paths with yet another legendary figure: Ernest Hemingway. … Travel Channel’s new Trip Testers (11/10c) sends travel writers Jason Kessler and Jeff Miller to popular destinations—including Las Vegas and New Orleans in back-to-back episodes—to see if the city’s key attractions live up to their billing.