Birth of a Nation
US, 120 min
Director: Nate Parker
Screenplay: Nate Parker, Jean McGianni Celestin
Cast: Nate Parker, Armie hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Jr., Colman Domingo
Birth of a Nation is shot out of a cannon newcomer Nate Parker’s award winning film about slavery in the Antebellum South. Parker wrote/directed/starred in this Sundance grand prize winning film centered around well-known historical figure Nat Turner, a born again preacher and eventual puppet of the slave tending masters of many Virginia plantations. Turner famously led a unified slave revolt in Southampton County, Virginia. Justice was righteously attempted, with the blunt end of farm implements, against plantation owners by many slaves seeking to end the cruelty inflicted upon them and their families. Historically we all know this revolt, which occurred three and a half decades before the civil war, did not succeed. Suffering and unimaginable cruelty reigned over southern blacks for more than a century after the revolt. Some would argue the modern police efforts to appease fearful white folk is on par with slave hunters, shown in the film arresting beating, and murdering innocent black persons.
This film contains a few of the strongest scene performances this reviewer has witnessed in or out of the genre. This film also contains overwrought and seemingly unnecessary long stay shots of some of the most brutal moments captured on film. One should never whitewash or anesthetize history for palatability, but there has to be a limit in good taste, or you run the risk of becoming part of the torture porn genre. Spielberg chose not to show the minutia moments of the horrible atrocities of the Nazi’s against the Jews, in ‘horrifying to watch’ detail. A filmmaker has to remember that their audience seeks entertainment, and if you can entertain and simultaneously educate your audience, you have performed your craft well.
Parker chose to stick his audience with imagery that I can only hope over time will fade from this reviewer’s mind. Once again I feel it necessary to say history should not be sanitized, but remember your audience. Nat Turner was a brave man who deserves a chance to have his story told without solely focusing on the well-known brutality of ignorant, selfish oligarchs. Nat Turner’s life was more than the brutality he suffered.
Birth of a Nation does succeed, as any good period piece does, in regard to costumes and set design. The viewer is instantly transported to plantation life in the American South. Unfortunately though, anyone who is even a little uneasy about screen violence needs to avoid this film. Due to the production choices made, I can’t give this film my strongest recommendation. Anyone interested in learning more about this time of American history, should just watch the mini-series Roots (original or remake). Far more emotionally palatable. I give it six out of 10.