“The Birth of a Nation” stars Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Penelope Ann Miller, and Gabrielle Union. Released on October 7, 2016, the film is about an enslaved preacher who leads a rebellion against the white owners.
The film features the directorial debut of Nate Parker, and it is based on the 1831 slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia led by Nat Turner. It made its first appearance at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2016, where it received an Audience Award and the U.S. Grand Jury Prize in the dramatic category. The amount of praise this film has gotten made me want to see it for myself, because it’s history...which is a big part of our lives. Now that it is released in the states, does it live up to the hype? In my opinion, yes.
There were a lot of good things I could say about this film, but for this review, I’ll keep it nice and simple. The performances from the cast were very strong, with the highlights being Nate Parker as Nat Turner and Aja Naomi King as Cherry. Not only did Parker portray the character extremely well, but his direction was actually pretty good as well. He’s not afraid to show off some of the disturbing moments that happened during the years of slavery, and by disturbing, I mean “Geez Louis” disturbing. The execution of the story behind the slave rebellion was superb. It does have a few moments where the narrative structure jumps from one thing to the next, but the focus was still on Turner and his journey all the way through. The first and second acts of the film were well-acted and beautifully shot, but it was the third act that shines the most. Thanks to Henry Jackman’s powerful score and its brutal depiction of violence, it is one of the most emotional and depressing finales that I had ever witnessed in film. Just makes me glad that I wasn’t born in that timeline.
Overall, despite a few narrative problems, “The Birth of a Nation” is a brilliant representation of not only Nat Turner’s rebellion against the white owners, but also strength from God. With strong performances, Henry Jackman’s score, Nate Parker’s brutal vision of the 1800s, and an emotional finale, it is one of the most stunning historic films I’ve ever seen. I would highly recommend it to those who are into films that involve history and regular filmgoers in general. For those who aren’t into disturbing graphic content, it’s probably better for them to wait until it’s on television.