The Birth of a Nation


Luke "Luke Nukem" Myslik, Staff Writer

Actor Nate Parker made his directorial debut and starred in The Birth of a Nation, which is a remake of D.W. Griffith’s controversial, yet well-made 1915 film. The feature premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival where it received a standing ovation from both critics and the audience. The film won prestigious awards such as the Sundance Audience Award and the U.S. Grand Jury Prize. So I thought, since people all across America are raving about this movie, maybe I should give this well-received movie a shot; and I came away liking the movie quite a bit.

Parker plays an enslaved preacher named Nat Turner who lives with his family on a Virginia plantation owned by Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer). Throughout Nat’s years of preaching to fellow slaves, he’s asked to go across the  countryside preaching to other slaves about being civil and obedient to their masters. Once Nat observes how the slaves are being treated by their owners, he decides to put an end to the violent, ruthless nature of the plantation owners. He leads an uprising of slaves to unite and rebel against the landlords in what is known to be one of the most violent rebellions in U.S. history.

From the outset of The Birth of a Nation’s plot, it feels awfully similar to other movies, and most film critics around the U.S. would argue that it’s almost the same plot as Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, but with enslaved radicals. While I do agree with that assessment, it isn’t really a bad thing at all. Parker has excellent direction and is a decent storyteller.

Much like other films about slavery, the film shows very vicious and graphic scenes of violence. The scene when Turner and his rebellion fight the other landowners in a really brutal final battle is violent enough, but scenes that include slaves being mercilessly punished by their masters are perhaps the most disturbing scenes of the film.

At some points in the movie, while it does having high-quality performances, I felt like there were some developmental and tonal shifts in characters that made absolutely no sense as the film went on. For instance, Samuel Turner starts off as Nat Turner’s friend, but in one particular scene, his character changes into an antagonist. That didn’t make any sense whatsoever.

What the film also features at times are these indie-film type metaphorical sequences you see as the film goes along that I thought weren’t really necessary. The sequences themselves come abruptly, trying to symbolize Nat Turner’s destiny of leading the slaves to freedom. Metaphorical scenes may create unique visual representation to drive the story forward or promote character development in some movies, but in this case, they are needlessly cryptic and come out of nowhere.

Overall, The Birth of a Nation is a really solid remake of an original film, and it is quite the smashing debut for Nate Parker. Despite its flaws of abrupt nonsensical tone shifts, and needless metaphorical sequences, it has great acting, unique direction, gruesomely brutal action, and a really effective score. Sure, the movie may be something you’ve seen before, but it’s still a well-directed film that I recommend to everyone else.