Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Birth of a Nation Movie Review

The Birth of a Nation (2016) 
Buy The Birth of a Nation on Amazon Video
Written by: Nate Parker (screenplay), Nate Parker & Jean McGianni Celestin (story by)
Directed by: Nate Parker
Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Junior, Roger Guenveur Smith, Gabrielle Union
Rated: R

My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous movie reviews!

Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher in the antebellum South, is rented to other plantations by his owner to preach submission to slaves. After witnessing and experiencing various atrocities, he orchestrates an uprising.

This is an intriguing story, though the script doesn't always do it justice. It's easy to see the ambition, but this is a good movie that could have been great. It's less than subtle in making it's point and plods along to a predictable conclusion.
Watch it.

Director Parker admitted he deliberately used the title of D.W. Griffith's 1915 movie Birth of a Nation (read my review) to repurpose it. While the scale and scope of the 1915 version is impressive, it is outright racist propaganda.

It certainly makes it's point, but it's not always deft. This is violent and graphic with a predictable plot. It's a great topic to explore, showing you plantation owners endeavored to placate slaves and their rebellious actions due to mistreatment and abuse. Turner is an unwitting, and possibly unwilling to admit, participant in preaching to slaves on other plantations, urging them to obey slave owners, using scripture to back it up.

The pacing is logical, but becomes boring. It's easy to see where this goes. As Turner continues to preach at other plantations he sees various atrocities, but when his wife is attacked he is no longer willing to undermine slaves by telling them to suffer assault willingly. He refutes the doctrine that slaves should submit to slave owners at all times, using scripture to refute the very idea he had been preaching, using it to urge others to revenge.

Free State of Jones (2016) (read my review) is in the same vein, though it falls into the white savior trope. Jones manages to do more with similar concepts. Through that film we get a feel for the world and countryside with sweepign landscape shots, something Birth of a Nation never does. Newt Knight is a character we root for because he's given moments that reveal his character. Nat Turner is a by the numbers hero that lacks depth. There are plenty of opportunities to delve deeper, but they aren't taken. Just a couple of moments could have really transformed his character. The movie wants us to think his cause is noble, but it also could just be revenge over what happened to his wife.

When this generated Oscar buzz, writers Parker and Celestin's rape trial during their tenure at University of Pennsylvania surfaced. Parker had been acquitted with Celestin's conviction later being overturned.

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