The Birth of a Nation (2016)
There is a very important debate in the art world, where people question whether to separate the art from the artist. The Birth of the Nation is Nate Parker’s pet project that looks into Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in the 1830s, the film has been marred with the question of art and artist after a rape case that involved Nate Parker resurfaced in the media this August. I won’t get into the details of the specific case here because I myself feel that an artist should be differentiated from his art and thus will judge this film on its own, disregarding the personal and private lives of the makers.
The Birth of a Nation is the true story of Nat Turner (Nate Parker), who was a slave preacher that led a rebellion in 1831 against the slave masters in Virginia. The film starts off recounting Nat’s childhood and later on his adult motivations that incited his rebellion.
Getting right into the meat, the film is expertly made so that we see Parker’s vision clearly (he directed, wrote, produced, and stars in the film). He has a very poetic visual style as a director that makes the images on the screen so impactful. However, in terms of his narrative structure, there is a bit of imbalance. More than half of the film recounts the horrors of slavery, and they act as the motivations that spurred Nat Turner to rebel. While it is incredibly important for us to see the horrors of how we as human beings treated one another, the film does pause on these maybe too long so that the point was well made and the actions and moments keep droning on. In fact the rebellion might only take up 15 to 20 minutes of the entire movie. Because the film was marketed as the telling of the rebellion, this causes some disappointment. However, if you go into the film expecting a viewing into slavery in America, it becomes all the more powerful.
Nate Parker takes on many duties for this film and it is truly admirable that he was able to juggle all of them and deliver a well-directed film and an incredibly moving performance. The film itself is necessary as a criticism to white and wealthy America of today, especially due to some current xenophobic and racist political movements.
The film is a necessary viewing for people to understand the horrors of our history. There are some narrative inconsistencies, but overall Nate Parker delivers a powerful film.