“Propaganda soon became the industry rallying cry. As the US laid battle plans, Variety reported that film companies “dealing entirely with Uncle Sam’s preparations for war” were elated over the fact that the government was planning to review films “suitable to promoting the proper propaganda” for army and navy recruiting.
Political film censorship was rampant during this time.
This intense censorship climate was exacerbated by Wilson’s signing of the Espionage Act in June 1917, which attacked any forms of speech construed as critical of the war. Under such conditions, several film figures were arrested.
The most infamous and telling World War I film censorship case was the banning of the independent Revolutionary War picture The Spirit of ’76. Produced by Robert Goldstein (an original investor in Griffith’s 1915 pro-slavery blockbuster The Birth of a Nation), the feature became the center of government attacks after being suppressed by Chicago censors in May 1917, just a month prior to the signing of the Espionage Act. Although Goldstein regained control of the film for Los Angeles, Spirit of ’76 was soon confiscated by the Department of Justice and its producer charged with espionage.”