Release Date: October 7, 2016
Director: Nate Parker
Writer: Nate Parker, Jean McGianni Celestin
Cast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Junior, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Dwight Henry, Aja Naomi King, Esther Scott, Roger Guenveur Smith, Gabrielle Union, Tony Espinosa, Jayson Warner Smith, Jason Stuart, Chike Okonkwo, Katie Garfield, Kai Norris, Chris Greene, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Steve Coulter, Jeryl Prescott, Justin Randell Brooke, Dominic Bogart, Justin M Smith, Allen Phoenix, Aiden Flowers
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes
Production Company: Argent Pictures, Bron Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance, Follow Through Productions, Hit 55 Ventures, Infinity United Entertainment, Juniper Productions, Mandalay Pictures, Novofam Productions, Oster Meida, Phantom Four, Point Made Films, Tiny Giant Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Genre: Biography, Drama
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
Within history there’s so much to tell and pass on to future generations. Some figures are plastered on the covers of history books with their statues erect for the world to see, while others are forgotten or swept under the rug. If only all historical figures had a chance to tell their side of the story who knows what world we’d live in today. One of those stories that most have never heard of is that of Nat Turner (Nate Parker). He was an African-American who led a rebellion of slaves and free Blacks in Southampton Virginia in 1831 that led to the death of their masters. This is Nate Parker’s directorial debut, and it’s a near masterpiece. Parker was not only able to address a different context of slavery, but was also able to shine light on how much history repeats itself. It’s an uncomfortable film to watch, but a form of art everyone should see.
Whether or not every incident within The Birth of a Nation is true or false, it’s clear Parker is making a few political statements. At the time of this release, in Fall of 2016, it echoes the same sentiments that are heard in the middle of presidential rallies today. The film screams to the roof tops on many levels on how nothing has changed as far as people’s prejudices against those who don’t look the same as they do. It’s also a prime example of how those who don’t know the future are doomed to repeat it, and is a wakeup call to stop the atrocities that are still going on. This will definitely upset the guilty, and it’s apparent to me this was intentional.
Before its release, you were probably under the impression that the protagonist is one to praise due to this being a true story. You wouldn’t be wrong for making that assumption, but what the film does so well is give you a reason why with Nat Turner’s youth. He was told he was special and would do great things, and that was the spark that sent him on his way. There was a purity and innocence towards the introduction that pulled on your heart strings for you to care. You felt nothing but sympathy for Nat as he was born into the world just like his childhood friend Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), only to have Turner turn on him years later and to be looked down upon. It’s frightening to imagine generations of people had to cope with this, and Parker illustrated the damaging psychology through his great direction and phenomenal acting abilities in front of and behind the camera.
As mentioned earlier, the film at times is uncomfortable to watch as men and women are treated worse than anything imaginable. This isn’t just another movie about being beaten with whips, but being degraded to a level I didn’t think was possible. Even within all the brutality, Parker was able to show the power of love. That love that’s shared between a man and woman destined to be together. That love for justice and never giving up. You see, Nat Turner was so powerful with his presence it’s shocking he never lost his faith. No matter what cards he was dealt he knew he was alive to do something meaningful. That’s what’s so honorable about his character. He had no reason to believe he would ever endure a good day, yet he kept fighting on. It wouldn’t have mattered though if the performance didn’t cater to the man, and with Nate Parker it did. With it being nearly the end of the year he needs to be in the conversation for best male leading role. There was so much pain behind his eyes as he cried on screen. He trembled and shook so fiercely back and forth as he was boiled up with frustration and anger from the unrighteousness done to him and his people. On top of that, he still kept his head high. And with the acting I don’t know what was more painful; looking at him and his fellow slaves withstand a beating, or the fact that with everything taken away from him he stayed strong. When he cried the audience cried, because it’s all so hard to stomach. He was a smart man and tried to use his talents wisely. Not for those that surrounded him, but for all that are oppressed and would be oppressed in the future. Even when the White man tried to justify their evil using the word of God, he wasn’t having it. And I couldn’t imagine any other actor telling it the way he did.
There are so many wonderful achievements that were reached in the making of this film. A man’s debut behind the camera was knocked out of the park for many reasons. It was for finding balance between the light and the dark. At times while someone was degraded, another character was shown love. While another was put to shame, another was encouraged for their beauty. While some were beat down, others were built back up. Not only is this film a great history lesson, it contains a powerful message that’s uplifting, motivating, inspiring, and will get a conversation started. The acting was superb across the board from every mannerism, gesture, and emotion; and If you don’t turn in your seat a few times there’s a chance you don’t have a pulse.