The Birth of a Nation
Directed By NATE PARKER
NATE PARKER’S Sundance winning tale of slave revenge is not a bad film but its also not a great film.
The film opens with young Nat Turner, witnessing his own fathers escape after murdering a slave catcher when he was captured returning from stealing food. This event puts into perspective for a young nat, the true nature harsh world and the realities of the institution of slavery and instills a rebellious fire inside of his soul that never dies.
Learning to read as a boy when the plantation owners wife thinks its god gift to give the ability to read scripture to a slave, he starts to be taught and trained but once the plantation owner dies, Nat returns to the field, instead using his skills to perform church services for all the slaves on the plantation
The first 20 minutes I must admit is the worst section of the film, suffering from very odd camera choices and sensibilities that come off as amateur and just simply uninspired. The first twenty minutes feels almost like a television history channel special about Nat Turner, and almost threatened to ruin the entire film before it starts.
Thankfully the quality of the film greatly increases after the first 20 minutes and we see nat, a fully grown adult. Nate Parkers Performance is stellar, there are nothing negative that can be said about his power house of a role, his facial expressions alone are enough to make me enjoy this film.
Into the next section of the film, we see the role Turner plays on the plantation both as a right hand man to the plantation owner played by ARMIE HAMMER and spiritual leader of the slaves who lack the ability to read but keep a strict relationship with their faith that even in the worst times can prosper in a positive way.
at a slave auction, Turner convinces his master to purchase a beautiful young slave women, whom Turner thinks would make an excellent gift for the mistress of the plantation. Nat and the new young women begin a relationship, get married and eventually birth a child, whose presence is mysteriously absent from most of the film except for literally one shot.
This section to me is one of the best of the film, Parkers facially charismatic performance makes this subtle nuanced look at life of a slave, an unintentionally minimalistic treat. The stunningly un-melodramatic nature of this section shows Parker’s “promise” as a director but shows his true talent as an actor, committed to a very subdued look at a very complex man
After a local preacher mentions that other farm owners around the county would pay good money for an African preacher to come and calm down their slaves, NAT is sent to other farms to preach in front of broken souls using his knowledge of gospel to quell any feelings of an uprising, telling the slaves that salvation is near but through hands not their own
The witnesses of horrors in slavery that NAT has not yet seen puts inside of him an ugly feeling, a feeling of anger and resentment towards everything – he even begins to question to very nature of his own faith. After being whipped for baptizing a white man who has been for banned from every church in the county, turner begins to formulate a real plan to take back the life owed, the life stole from his and his people
Parkers direction unfortunately never makes complete sense of the pure intentions behind turners rebellion and the sudden tonal change during the third act is jarring to say the least. Tonally and in terms of color palette its almost a completely different film, which there is nothing wrong with but Parkers unrefined directing skills are not yet ready to be able to really translate two tonally different pieces into one cohesive narrative.
The final rebellion breezes by too quick for its own good. its over before it really begins, it feels sparse and unimportant, and the explanation of how Turner was able to escape into the woods and hide for months is sadly resulted to cheesy exposition, and cop out directing that is just simply unbelievable in context to a realistic world.
The birth of a nation is not a bad film, but its a film that could be of been great, and its a true shame its not. Nate Parkers portrayal of Nat Turner is great, its a true great performance, but its a performance stuck in a film that just never really succeeds as a compelling narrative.
With that being said this film succeeds as a film culturally because it makes me want to learn everything I can about Nat Turner.
Nate Parkers Portrayal is charismatic, and just a plain good performance that is emotionally dense and subtle enough to truly feel natural, Nat Turners mustache is a character in itself. His portray is of a fiercely passionate man, who becomes a hero and the embodiment of the spirit of freedom. Turner surly knew his chances of survival were slim once the rebellion went underway, he knew what he was doing was as much to show the world what is possible as it was to gain his own personal salvation.
Nate Parker has turned Nat Turner into a very interesting figure, and for that I think the film needs to be seen because the story of Nat Turner Needs to stay Relevant