THE BIRTH OF A NATION:
A HARSH BUT POWERFUL DEPICTION OF SLAVERY THAT DELIVERS A STRONG MESSAGE!
By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** ½ out of 4
FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES
Nat Turner and the slaves rising up against the White man in The Birth of a Nation
Actor, Nate Parker (The Great Debaters, The Secret Life of Bees, Red Tails) makes his directorial debut with a period-drama based on the true events of Nat Turner, an enslaved African-American man who led a rebellion of slaves and free blacks against white slave owners in Southampton County, Virginia in the 1800s. In the tradition of many period-dramas depicting slavery like Glory, Amistad, and 12 Years a Slave, The Birth of a Nation delivers a movie that hits your emotions hard, showing grotesque scenes of slaves getting tortured, hanged, and shot to name a few, but has an inspirational message about rising up to those who have wronged you.
Nate Parker beautifully captures the look and feel of history through the cinematography, especially the sweeping shots of the cotton plantation, if you have the chance to watch this movie on a large film format, definitely do so, it looks amazing. But the beauty of the cinematography doesn’t get in the way of the harsh realism the movie is depicting and that’s where the focus of the movie should be.
One thing I really have to give period-drama movies about slavery that come out today credit for is their abilities to make you feel uncomfortable as you’re watching them, and even though I really liked Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, it wasn’t a very realistic kind of movie with its tone. Movies like this and 12 Years a Slave however were so uncomfortably real I actually felt very squeamish when I saw them, but not to the point where I literally got sick, a lot of the scenes in those films are so hard to watch.
I cannot stress this enough, you will see pain in this movie, I know it’s hard to watch but with stories like this, you really need it, not just for historical accuracies but to give you an emotional feeling and show how you can be a better person by not treating other people differently. The Birth of a Nation is a perfect example of a great movie that will make you feel bad and question American history.
The film follows Nat Turner (played by Parker) who as a young boy was taught how to read so he can study the Bible and be a preacher to fellow slaves. When his master, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer-The Social Network, J. Edgar, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) takes him across the country to profit from his preaching, Nat soon discovers the scope of American slavery and decides to become a different leader, and rise up against the white man for freedom and revenge.
The film also stars Mark Boone Junior (The Equalizer, Die Hard 2, Sons of Anarchy) as Rev. Walthall, Colman Domingo (Freedomland, Lincoln, Selma) as Hark Turner, Aunjanue Ellis (Men of Honor, Ray, The Help) as Nancy Turner, Aja Naomi King (Damsels in Distress, Four, How to Get Away with Murder) as Cherry, Esther Scott (Boyz n the Hood, Dreamgirls, The Pursuit of Happyness) as Bridget Turner, Roger Guenveur Smith (K-Street, All About the Benjamins, American Gangster) as Issiah, Gabrielle Union (Deliver Us from Eva, Bad Boys II, Breakin’ All the Rules) as Esther, Penelope Ann Miller (Chaplin, Carlito’s Way, The Artist) as Elizabeth Turner, Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children, Watchmen, A Nightmare on Elm Street) as Raymond Cobb, Jason Stuart (Vegas Vacation, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Everybody Hates Chris) as Joseph Randall, and Steve Coulter as General Childs.
Overall, The Birth of a Nation is a fantastic movie as well as a very important movie for the American people, black, white, or otherwise. No matter your skin color, you will feel for the people depicted in this movie, when something terrible happens you feel the emotion, and when Nat motivates the slaves to clash with the white man, it makes you want to stand up in the theater and applaud.
Seriously Nate Parker’s performance as Nat Turner is phenomenal, honestly I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets nominated for the Best Actor and Best Director Oscars. I almost forgot I was looking at an actor, his delivery is go good, I really thought I was looking at the real-life Nat Turner.
Armie Hammer is also chilling as Samuel Turner, and despite obviously being the slaves’ master, he has strong chemistry with Nate Parker and they spend a lot of time together in the movie, until his final moment. This is probably my second favorite performance by Armie Hammer behind Cameron and Tyler from The Social Network.
This is a movie I recommend every citizen in America to see, despite the cruelty it delivers a strong message about being accepted in a cruel, cruel world and hopefully it will inspire people to stand for what’s right and change their ways. We’re living in a society where people are harassed by law enforcement and racists just by being different, both of which I am highly against, and if more people watched movies like this and paid attention to what’s going on in other peoples’ lives, I’m sure everyone can make a difference.
It’s a harsh movie that can be hard to watch, but the moral around it is something that is truly worthwhile.