The Birth of a Nation (2016) Movie Review

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Birth of a Nation (2016)

The Birth of a Nation (2016) Movie Review

An enthralling directorial debut
Nate parker writes, produces, acts, and directs this landmark in American history. The story of Nat Turner is one that is relatively uncharted territory in the realm of cinema, with that being said, Nate Parker does a great job of of telling the story, albeit a little shortsighted as to the backlash that transpired afterwards. 

Also, I don't know what this other critic user is talking about in regards to calling this movie, "racist crap" and giving it a 1 out of 10. The movie tells the story of a rebellious slave who does whatever he needs to, to achieve freedom from the oppressive south. With that being said, his story simply tells the truth of our nations racial relations at this time. In this particular context, Blacks and whites surely were not singing kumbaya, our relationship was highly one-sided, volatile, and largely disturbing. So, to anyone who is not prepared to see a small glimpse of historical truth in regards to our nations past, do not see this movie. You'll just end up like this other user, offended because this movie doesn't depict white people as saviors, heroes, etc, like most depicts a more sinister side that too often goes untold, unseen, and therefore, unnoticed.

An unflinching telling of history, the Sundance breakout of 2016

The title, 'The Birth of a Nation', is a reclaiming of the same title associated with the 1915 D.W. Griffith silent film. Griffith's movie was the first epic of its kind but is a blatant and spooky glorification of the Klu Klux Klan from today's lens. It's been a blemish that can't be concealed in cinematic history since its release. Nate Parker's story repurposes the title as a symbol of how this country was built on the backbones of enslaved Africans and their unavoidable connection to a country founded on the pursuit of freedom. It's a brilliant way to shelve Griffith's film, which is an important movie for historical and cinematic study but like the Confederate Flag has no place in today's world. Parker's 2016 film most certainly does.

Turner was born a slave but early on was unusually taught to read from the Bible, and would grow up to become a preacher. Through studying the Bible while living in the midst of slavery (which as Parker put it, "allowed nobody to go to sleep without a guilty conscience"), Turner reaches a point where he can no longer stay silent about the cruel injustice that, in this world, is a daily routine. At a certain point, he is tired of the slave owners abusing scripture passages to make their slaves submissive and moves toward radical action as the only path to freedom.

One area where Parker shines is his depiction of the women in this world. I would advocate for calling this a feminist piece, which will get overlooked given its a movie where race is the forefront of the conversation. A slew of strong women play pivotal roles in the cast: Turner's grandmother, mother, eventual wife, along with Mistress Turner, the white baroness of the plantation Nat lives on (Aunjanue Ellis, Aja Naomi King, and Penelope Ann Miller). Multiple other women are essential to the story as well. These women play a massive role in his life and are never reduced to bit roles. It's a rarity for a male director to make so much room for prominent female roles (not to mention especially in a historical film).

Overall, 'The Birth of a Nation' strikes a chord that the industry needs to feel right now and that the audience will experience upon its release. In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite and the lack of media representation, Parker's unflinching telling of history invites the public to experience a part of this nation's formation and legacy that may not be well known to the general public, and as Paker emphasizes, reflect on why it matters today.

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