The Birth of a Nation

dir. Nate Parker – 2016 – 117 min – 6.40

I was talking with my friend Aaron the other day about how picky I am. The wider my film vocabulary becomes the more I notice how my tastes effect my enjoyment of films. The Birth of a Nation falls victim to this.

The film tells the story of the Nat Turner rebellion, a 48 hour slave rebellion in Virginia. Nat Turner was an educated slave preacher who saw God’s word as a compelling reason against slavery. I won’t say that I am a Nat Turner expert. I was familiar with the name before I heard about the film but that is pretty much all. As such I decided it necessary to do a little research and found that the film is not super accurate. Now, this is not the first time a film embellishes on fact to elevate drama, but that does not mean I have to like it.

It was not difficult, with about 10 minutes of research, to learn that Nate Parker wanted to make his subject more of a man’s man. Mario trying to save Peach. I read a review by Dr. Leslie M. Alexander who is a professor of African American studies at The Ohio State University so I will whole accept her expertise on this issue. One thing that didn’t make sense to me in the film is one of the key story differences between history and fiction. This was Cherry Turner’s rape and beating.

Based on Dr. Alexander’s review it think it is important to make this destinction because the rebellion really was based on Nat’s belief that God’s word was his justification of rebellion, not a hero’s journey to vindicate his wife’s attack. So, what is the problem here. Is it too difficult to sell a biopic about a slave rebellion without fantising something deeper than a spiritiual desire for freedom? I don’t know.

Okay, lets try and put that aside for a moment and focus on a strength, the title. The Birth of a Nation shares it’s title with a super racist film by D. W. Griffith. This is a film that is so pro KKK that I could not even finish watching the piece of garbage. My understanding on Parker’s reasoning for sharing the title is to act as a reminder of how much of our nation was build with the blood of African slaves. And the blood of slaves is spilt en masse in his film to emphasise the brutality with which slaves existed. One of the strengths is that it feels acurate with how violent and uncomfortable we need to feel with the topic. This is the one place, in my opinion, that the film hits it’s mark. It truly capitalizes on emotion.

This is an important story. I think that is why it is difficult for me to say that it isn’t that well made. I badly wanted this film to make me want to stand up and shout it’s accolates and want to host screenings, but I can’t. If Parker obstained from turning a faith story into a revenge tale I could overlook some of the uninspired imagery. It isn’t especially well shot and I think that is Turner was re-cast my opinion may be changed. It is difficult to put my finger on my issue. Too many minuses to balance the high points.

The only special feature I bothered watching was Parker’s shortfilm #ameriCAN which makes a valuable point regarding police shootings and I would recommend you watch that feature. The rest, however, didn’t make me want to stick around.