Nate Parker’s movie has been blighted by an insane amount of negativity and flak, rendering it hard for many to see it without later talking about everything else outside of the film. Nate Parker’s rape controversy, how he appeared ‘cold’ when confronted about it, the feeling that he still isn’t quite repentant enough do not do favours for his debut film and PR. Go outside of that and you enter a world of anger and outrage all over and a dilemma for Black women who know Parker’s movie is an important tribute to their identity but feel victimized when ‘supporting’ his film. The Birth Of A Nation is also riding on a record-breaking 20 million flop by Fox Searchlight whose Oscar dreams have been dashed by a underwhelming response from critics and the overwhelming controversy surrounding it. Tough times indeed. I won’t defend Parker because I don’t know the whole truth, but I am here to review his film for what it is and I won’t mix the art with the artist. But if I can say one thing more about this, it’s this- Casey Affleck, star of Manchester By The Sea is also embroiled in far less damaging coverage of sexual harrassment. Parker’s case is more serious, but Casey Affleck has been given a much easier time. Manchester By The Sea is now Affleck’s vehicle to the Oscars and a launchpad for his rise while Parker will forever be damned for his personal life. Something’s not too right.
The Birth Of A Nation is Nate Parker’s biographical dramatization of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in the Antebellum South. It’s rich with imagery and Black folklore and littered with violent acts of cruelty and savagery. Parker’s heavy handed approach involves carefully and purposely placed symbols. At times, the mythology of his dream sequences feel removed from his main message. His metaphors draws attention away from the power of his scenes. But overall, The Birth Of A Nation is a chilling new look at slavery and underscores the legacy of Nat Turner’s slave revolution. Taking some liberties with the truth, Birth Of A Nation isn’t the best it could have been but it’s sheer power and importance overrides any artistic demerits it may have.
Nat Turner isn’t the best role model by any means. But Nat Turner is perhaps the most logical human response to slavery’s inhumanity. That dilemma is greatly explored in the film. For all it’s forced and artistic ‘in-your-face’ visual flairs, I like the film because it captured the most important aspect of Turner’s identity. Having been educated for a while, Turner was in a unique position. He was both a servant of God and a servant of man; A preacher of true gospel and a preacher of imposed propaganda. Personally, I found the parts where he struggled to preach to the slaves from other houses very affecting. It’s powerful and hard-hitting because Turner’s pure faith in God is used to maniulate fellow slaves into submission; The word he believes in is tweaked to suit their oppressor’s twisted agenda. And with every look into the hurting souls of his fellow brothers and sisters, the hypocrisy that he’s complicit in becomes the most difficult and defining moments of the film.
Gradually, Nate Parker’s film appears to be less cogent. As we arrive at the final scenes, the violent and bloody finale and its aftermath seem to ‘lose’ its message. But Turner’s story never had a moral to begin with. There’s no denouement nor catharsis. This is reality as we speak. Turner’s rebellion is a natural response to cruelty; A natural human reaction to systemic objectification and abuse. I thought the film got a hold of that pretty well and didn’t overextend to glorify Turner nor make it seem as if his revolution affected the racist mindset of the slave owners. It’s just a story about one man who’s had enough and did all he could in his means to fight for his people’s rights. The showy dream sequences and messianic portrayal does take away some of the film’s raw power but the conviction is clear.
The Birth Of A Nation gets smashed around alot. It’s heavy handed approach is not very well done which I agree. But nitpicking on bending the truth is not being fair. I’ve seen a ton of reviews blasting it for this when so many other biographical drama films do the same and get away with it. People are unhappy there’s no message when in actual fact, it’s not the message but the truth about human response and reaction that’s important. And some say it’s a movie about ‘nothing much’ when it’s an important look at a dark history of America and a victim of it who had the courage to say he’s had enough. For all the bad press the film has been getting, I urge you to view it for what the film truly is.