Set against the antebellum South, THE BIRTH OF A NATION follows Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), accepts an offer to use Nat's preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities - against himself and his fellow slaves - Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
This movie deliberately shares its title with D.W. Griffith's 1915 movie The Birth of a Nation (1915). That film, an adaptation of Thomas Dixon Jr.'s 1902-1905 pro-Klan novels The Leopard's Spots and The Clansman, was a runaway critical, commercial, and cultural success. President Woodrow Wilson, who screened it in the White House, was falsely claimed to have had declared that it was "like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true." It was also the subject of protests against its virulently racist view of African Americans. Historians see the movie as a major impetus for the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and a concomitant rise in lynchings and other racist violence during the early part of the 1900s. Protesting the film's racist views was an early action for the then-young NAACP. Long into the twentieth century, mainstream, mostly white cinema scholars continued to praise the film as a landmark technical achievement in the history of motion pictures, while minimizing or ignoring altogether its racist message. Spike Lee was so outraged that his NYU Film School professors taught The Birth of a Nation (1915) with no mention of its racist message or legacy that he made a student short film titled The Answer (1980) as a response. The film so offended many of his professors that Lee was nearly expelled from NYU. He was ultimately saved by a faculty vote. See more »
When Bridget dies, Nate carries her body out of the building. No way could he lift that large a woman. Its obviously not her body, but that of a much smaller woman. See more »
Does Justice To The Legacy Of Nat Turner Despite A Few Shortcomings.
The beloved darling of last year's Sundance Film Festival is a competently crafted biographical drama that brings the story of Nat Turner to life in splendid detail and exhibits expert workmanship in all aspects of filmmaking but it still fails to bring anything new to the table and feels like something that we have seen many times before.
Set in 19th century America, The Birth of a Nation tells the story of Nat Turner, an enslaved man & a preacher who's taken to different plantations by his financially strained owner to preach to other negro slaves and, after witnessing countless acts of barbarity inflicted upon them by their owners, orchestrates an uprising to lead his people to freedom.
Co-written, co-produced & directed by Nate Parker who also stars in the leading role, The Birth of a Nation takes its time to set up its premise and is quite violent & disturbing when it's meant to be but there are also times when it needlessly indulges in some petty allegorical bullshit & unneeded flashbacks which hamper its steady narration by an extent.
While it's evident that the film is a product of extensive research, no real effort is made to separate its look n feel from other examples that deal with the subject of slavery. Its iconography has a lot in common with Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave but it is still lacking in the raw emotional power of that powerfully-moving feature. Nevertheless, for a debut feature, this is an impressive start.
Its 120 minutes of runtime could've been further trimmed, for there are plenty of scenes that don't add much to the story and at times take the focus away from what's relevant. Camera keeps itself firmly fixed on Nat Turner, the cold colour palette is finely utilised, and the decision to capture the violence & brutality in its raw, unadulterated form is a welcome one. Lastly, all of it is wonderfully supported by its evocative score.
Coming to the performances, the cast consists of Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Jackie Earle Haley, Aja Naomi King & others, and although all chip in with apt inputs in their given roles, their screen time is shortened to keep the focus on Parker's character. Parker's measured performance packs wide range of emotions and he expresses them convincingly for the most part and manages to render Nat Turner on the screen with effectiveness.
On an overall scale, The Birth of a Nation does justice to the legacy of Nat Turner despite its many shortcomings and is at its best during the final act when the inner rage of the enslaved bursts out in masterly-shot acts of brutality, violence & retaliation. Yet none of it lingers long after the credits have rolled and in the end, it feels like one of those movies that lifts certain elements from different examples of its genre but fails to provide its own touch of originality to it.
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