Movie Review: ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Is A Worthy First Feature

If you have followed movie news at all for the last several months then you know all about Nate Parker and his alleged rape of a fellow college student. This event happened more than a decade ago and he was acquitted of the charge, but it has been all anyone can talk about when it comes to his new film. Which is kind of sad, because it’s a pretty decently made film about an important man in the history of American slavery.

That man is Nat Turner (played by Nate Parker) and he was an educated slave that was used by his master to preach submission by using the Bible. You see, Nat taught himself how to read by sneaking books at a very young age, and luckily when his white masters wife caught him she was excited to train him further. Sadly, the only book she let him to read was the Bible and so he was easily persuaded by the only text he would ever know.

As an adult, his masters farm came under hardship and so he used Nat to help other farmers slaves listen to their masters more. The movie doesn’t show how successful Nat was at this, but it does show the atrocities he saw during his journeys and the slow transformation of his master into a slave whipping piece of shit. His master his played Armie Hammer in a role that could truly have been played by anyone. On the other hand, Jackie Earl Haley is a solid bigot from moment one and provides the movie a villain. 

Either way, the real fireworks finally begin when Nat decides to get a group of slaves together to murder all their masters in the middle of the night. It’s pretty violent shit, but it feels well earned. I wouldn’t say that it feels righteous to watch these guys murder a bunch of slave owning pricks, but you certainly won’t bat an eye for them. Yet, you are also unlikely to bat an eye for Nat either. Despite taking up most of the run time, Nat feels aloof and his story is a bit generic. We briefly see his childhood, but it mostly feels like a set up for an eventual show down. 

Still, ‘The Birth of a Nation’ is pretty good for a directorial debut and it’s an important story. I think it could have been told better and the writing could have been more memorable, but a solid flow makes the second half pretty engaging. Is the movie going to light up awards season? I highly doubt it. The basic plot is all stuff we’ve seen before and their are no Oscar worthy performances or anything. Still, if you are interested in this period of history or just simply want to support talented black filmmakers then this is the movie for you.

Nathan Ligon

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