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Branded as a racist, even at the time, for his Klan-celebrating 1915 epic, The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith contrived a rejoinder just four years later with the film some consider his best. The two movies could hardly be more different, and not just in their depiction of nonwhite characters. A chaste, doomed romance in the Asian mode, but set in London, Broken Blossoms is tightly focused, filmed almost entirely on two sets and with only three major characters. The script, though derived from a Thomas Burke short story with the unpromising title “The Chink and the Child,” is sympathetic to its Chinese character. Cheng Huan (Richard Barthelmess) leaves his home to bring the Buddha’s wisdom to uncivilized Britain. But when he finds that London is even harsher than Shanghai, he slips into opium addiction. Meanwhile, fellow “broken blossom” Lucy—a 15-year-old waif played by 23-year-old Lillian Gish—endures regular beatings from her father (Donald Crisp), a hard-drinking boxer, and is informed by East London’s hookers and housewives that neither role offers an escape from the brutality of men. (In its skepticism of marriage and Christian evangelists, Broken Blossoms seems as ahead of its time as The Birth of a Nation was behind it.) Although the film’s influence has been greater in the West than the East—Fellini partially modeled his La Strada on it—the motif of ringing Buddhist temple bells makes this screening an apt centennial tribute to Charles Lang Freer. Broken Blossoms screens at 7 p.m. at the Freer Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium. Jefferson Drive & 12th Street SW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Mark Jenkins)