The Birth of a Nation is written, directed and produced by Nathan Parker. It tells the epic and important black American historical tale of slave rebellion in Southampton County led by an extremely brave Baptist Preacher played by Nate Parker himself. On a plantation in Virginia owned by Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer) he continues to witness the deep unfortunate treatment of his fellow Black Women and Men. During the height of rebellion and social change despite being an enslaved preacher calm means he changes tactics to force a quicker new world order in the deep South for healthy change in the Black American community.
It is unfortunate to have to proceed this review with a mention of the rumors and allegations of sexual assault which surround the major release of this film and Nate Parker’s rise to success. Even though I tried extremely hard to not let this cloud my own personal individual interpretation, it was at times difficult. A strong smart, intelligent young Black male Preacher not only falls deeply in love with a beautiful smart Black female slave but also goes ahead to form a revolution. From Nate Parker??? Allegations true or not he should have at least delegated ‘lead male role’ for perception of main character to be free from rumour and gossip as this has been in production a long time.
However any film or piece of cinema or film which documents whether fictional or reality the deep plight of African Americans and Black people around the world is important to social progress. An interesting of subject matter is the personality, nature and manners of the white slavers. Armie Hammer plays Samuel Turner a slave owner but NOT slavery enthusiast. He treats his house and plantation help and is well aware of his privilege as a white, male with money in society. This afforded him easy intelligence too. In fact Samuel Turner (Hammer) and Baptist (Parker) become extremely close friends. Best friends even – it is a male plot of handmaiden romance. Samuel appreciates Baptists wiseness and advice from preaching, also sympathizes with his suffering and pain as a Black man and general intelligence of kander and banter. This is different to previous cinematic depictions of slave owners although not Steve McQueen’s ‘Twelve years a slave’ with Benedict Cumberbatch. This plot is familiar but not as elegant and as complex here.
Where Nate Parker succeeds on an emotive level is with the initial love story between ‘Cherry’ (Aja Naomi King) and ‘Nat Turner the Baptist’ (Nate Parker). The beautiful moments it is given however brief are a sincere look at love and intimacy growing between two African Americans in dire circumstances. When they first encounter each other it is clear she has had extremely rough time as a young attractive black female slave. She looks disheveled, tired and unwashed at an auction for slave owners. The sequence of shots following shows many older men licking their lips and touching themselves inappropriately while trying to buy her. However uncomfortable this is to watch as a female viewer, it is honest to portray what often happened to black female slaves. We can easily understand why Cherry would gravitate towards a black man of religious faith suffering in a similar position. For her to meet a man who finally respects and comforts her, while promising social change for Black people makes this both political and romantic.
Nate Parker is a charismatic and talented man no doubt and he appears to know this well. Again to highlight this film is directed, produced, written and stars Parker as the lead role. Even specifically for the Baptist to be called ‘Nat Turner’ suggests no subtle confidence in his creative film ability. I personally felt at times there was a high level of ‘Hero’ self indulgence with him being leader of uprising on top of the latter. I had to ignore this as it is a film with great intentions to depict the most difficult time in African American history.
It is also vital to address Parker’s decision to name the film ‘The Birth of a Nation’. DW Griffiths 1915 early piece of cinema is an epic tale of U.S civil war and the riise of the Ku Klux Klan which shares the same name but is the original. It is uncomfortable, racist, yet is an amazing documentary and features great cinematography. It’s an important film no one likes to discuss freely for obvious reasons. Nate Parker’s decision to name his major film project about slavery ‘The Birth of a Nation’ is an incredibly brave middle finger to racism or just plain offensive.
Alot of the genuine hope and aims to convey the plight of slaves and the very early start of change before the U.S Civil war is lost to Nate Parker unfortunately turning into a near ‘Braveheart’ figure for the black community. It felt like it was slightly too Hollywood at times with cliches of one man changing the entire deep south through dramatic preaching.
Von Von Lamunu