Monday, October 10, 2016

The Birth of a Nation

          Written and directed by as well as starring Nate Parker, this new drama may not be completely historically accurate but it is an emotional powerhouse and an important American film. It is the story of Nat Turner, a slave and preacher who led a rebellion in 1831 that sparked the flames that eventually led to the Civil War and the emancipation proclamation. 

           Mr. Parker has clearly put his heart and soul into this project but he may have been better served by a different director. His acting is excellent but starring in your own film is always tricky and in this case, Mr. Parker has a hard time turning the camera away from himself, as his subject matter. The film co-stars Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earl Haley, Penelope Ann Miller, and Gabrielle Union. While Mr. Turner is of course, the focus of the film, other characters are sacrificed with little development or after thought. The film would have also benefited from additional editing and a variety of pace. It's a deliberately slow paced film which I interpret as a metaphor for the building anger and rage inside Mr. Turner. 

            The film positions Nat Turner as a hero and while his intentions to fight injustice (as well as a spiritual calling from God, if you believe Mr. Parker) are righteous, the result caused the deaths of not only the fifty seven or so slaves that joined him in rebellion but over 200 innocent black people killed by mobs and the militia during the rebellion. The violence in the film is horrific, brutal and I'm sure accurate in the way many slaves were treated. There has been controversy over certain scenes that may not have actually happened and others that definitely didn't happen, but Mr. Parker has "based" his film on history, never claiming to be making a historical documentary. His script canonizes Nat Turner and justifies violence against violence. 

              Taken as a whole, the film unflinchingly focuses on an important period in American history that deserves to be seen, discussed and certainly further researched.

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