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Friday, October 7, 2016

The Birth of a Nation Movie Review

The Trailer:
The Good:
There were many historical references that tend to be neglected in typical "slave movies" throughout The Birth of a Nation. I appreciated the highlighting of the traditional African traditions and spirituality that was expressed and shared by the enslaved people. The significance of such a feature reminds the audience that the enslaved people were not native to this land, though that fact may be something we have come to take for granted. What I mean by that is, we may become so accustomed to seeing slaves in one particular way, that they are almost "Americanized" in films. So it's nice to be reminded that these slaves were enslaved people that had their own customs and traditions before being captured.

I thought it was really effective and central to both the movie and the character to display the (religious) visions of Nat Turner. If you happen to do any research or read any documents about Nat Turner, you would find that such visions were an important driving force for him. Religion was most definitely a key motivating factor for the character of Nat Turner. I appreciated the fact that the film was able to counter some of the popular notions of how religion affected both the masters and slaves.

I'm not sure if director Nate Parker did this intentionally or not, but there were many instances depicted in this film which were almost parallel to the racial conditions in modern society. For instance, you could see a slave's dead body in the street (Mike Brown), or the slave catchers on the hunt for runaway slaves only given a vague description (Police Brutality/Racial Profiling), or even the slave master's mentalities that drive many of the racial stereotypes still existent today (ie: Black people are lazy.)

Another aspect of this film that I really appreciated was the cognitive dissonance portrayed by all of the characters. It was very effective to see how the slaves had to believe one thing, but then act like that same thing was not a problem. Same goes with the white masters/people in the film who have to undergo the mindset that they are good people whilst committing rather evil acts.

The Bad:
My only issue with this film was that I believe it got a tad bit passive with the ending retaliation of the revolt. Granted it is depicted in a few scenes, and some epilogue text, I think that it still missed the mark. If you check your history books, what happened after the revolt grossly overshadowed the revolt itself. I think that was equally as important to show since it was Nat Turner's actions that contributed to such a heinous backlash. Since this was a low budget film, maybe they ran out of funds, but I still think it was a missed opportunity. (I won't hold this completely against the film though.)

The Reason:
As with many "slave movies", this is one that you really have to prepare yourself for. There are graphic scenes that have a bit of shock value to the film. It goes without saying that this film is a bit emotionally draining. Some people may feel very uncomfortable to others possibly getting really angry. One way or another, it's very difficult to walk away from this film without feeling anything at all.

Now, unless you haven't been listening to the news, this film does have a lot of controversy surrounding it given the actions of its director Nate Parker. Some may choose to boycott or not support this film due to this very controversy. I think they are completely in their right to do so. On the other hand, while I respect their right to boycott this film, I will not be advocating the same.

I do not condone the actions of director Nate Parker, I believe in separating him from his movie. I think that I can condemn his actions, and hold him accountable, while still recognizing the importance of this film. That importance is that a film like this helps American society actually learn about a piece of history that more than likely won't be taught in our history books in school. The sad reality is that movies/media have become our real history books (regardless of historical accuracy). So as someone who only found out about Nat Turner (and many others) only through a history course in grad school, I'm very happy that this film is being brought to the masses. My hope is that it would encourage more directors and studios to make more films that highlight neglected minority figures in history.

As you can probably tell, I did like The Birth of a Nation. The film was put together very well, and while it was a bit of a task to watch, I felt as though it was well worth it. I would highly recommend watching it in theaters or however you feel comfortable.

If you're interested, I decided to write about my experience seeing this film in two different settings. In the first setting, the film was viewed with a predominantly African American audience. In the second setting, the film was viewed with a more diverse audience. I must say there were some very interesting reactions when I compared the audience reactions in both viewings of the film. You can click here to read what happened.

The Rating: 9/10

My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

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