The Birth of a Nation has been the center of controversy from the start. First there was the confusion with the title for a remake of D.W. Griffiths racist travesty – The Birth of a Nation. I was relieved to discover that absolutely was not the case.
Secondly, there was the historical acquisition from Fox Searchlight at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year for 17.5 million dollars. Oh yeah, and after 12 Years a Slave, a ROOTS reboot on the History channel and the John Legend produced series Underground numerous people from all walks of life and nationalities were feeling a little “slave fatigue”. Last, but not least, were the released transcripts online from a rape trial involving Director/Producer/Screenwriter and Star of The Birth of a Nation – Nate Parker.
Let’s be clear, Parker was tried and acquitted of all charges. Yet, despite all of the criticism, the studio supported Parker and moved forward with their October 2016 release date.
I’m not gonna lie. Being a rape survivor and reading the transcripts, I felt some kind of way about the whole situation. Having said that, I made a conscious decision to separate the art from the artist. By his own admission, Parker was “young and dumb” making a mistake that has infinitely colored the lanes of his life and career.
While there are many filmmakers who have been accused of such indiscretions, the most famous ones, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin been accused of everything ranging from underage sex to murder. What I won’t do is focus on the artist and HIS indiscretions and focus on his art. Once again, let me be clear. I am not saying I am ok with Parker’s past actions, but this column is about the film, my thoughts and whether or not I think you should check it out.
Based on a true story, The Birth of a Nation tells the story of the abolitionist slave Nat Turner. Raised like a slave, but treated nearly equal to the his plantation owners, Turner was taught how to read. The first book he learned to read was the Bible, which ultimately led to his traveling all over the state of Virginia preaching the gospel.
Like any human being whose patience has been tested and tried time and time again, Turner is fed up and planned a revolt against those who have treated slaves less than human, like property or worse than their most reviled farm animal.
I can tell you now, this film will be the talk of awards season for the reasons I mentioned above, but mostly because this film couldn’t be more timely. During a time in which Americans are dealing with rampant racism, injustice and a clown show for a political race of President of the United States…The Birth of a Nation will make you angry, make you think and make you feel. It will also make you respect history and prove once again that the more things change the more they stay the same.
There is not one false note or performance and when they start handing out nominations Aja Naomi King should be at the top of the list. Her simple, heartfelt performance as Cherry will make you grin, cry and have empathy all at once. If you love her on ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder, trust me you have no idea what this doll is capable of and you will very pleasantly surprised.
Armie Hammer is nearly unrecognizable as Sam Turner. He’s definitely conquered much since his days in The Social Network and his performance here is quite a revelation.
Of course, I would be remiss in not mentioning the performance of my friend and former Hart of Dixie castmate Esther Scott as Nana. Nana is layered with lovely complexity thanks to Esther, who’s been around the industry for a minute. Here’s hoping that this film give her the shine she deserves.
The same can be said for my former Huntress castmate Jason Stuart is deliciously despicable as slave master Joseph Randall.
Penelope Ann Miller is absolutely brilliant…that is all!!! Aunjanue Ellis is an anomaly! That doll literally can inhabit ANY role and make it spectacular.
It was very interesting to me that a clip I saw of Gabrielle Union at the Los Angeles Film Festival was missing from the final cut. As matter of fact, her role is basically nonexistent. No doubt due to all the controversy regarding the rape issue, there were basically no sex scenes seen at all.
The Birth of a Nation is, however, extremely bloody and violent. After all, it is a slave revolt. It suffices to say that I spend a good portion of my time with those scenes…eyes closed.
Last, but certainly not least, let’s address the filmmaker, director, actor and writer of The Birth of a Nation…Nate Parker.
As a first time director taking on all hats, he does an exceptional and admirable job. My favorite things were the composition choices used and the choice to execute the passage of time. Artistically, it was absolutely outstanding. Parker’s acting chops were fantabulously displayed in a scene in which he verbally spars with a clergy member and when he watches a slave who refuses to eat have his teeth excavated with a hammer. The emotion without dialogue was really so incredible moving.
The Birth of a Nation will make you feel raw emotions and evoke compassion, empathy and sympathy for all of its characters. Most of all, it will make you want to do something. Anything, to ensure that this chapter of history is never, ever again to be repeated. Here’s hoping the millennial ‘birth of a nation’ includes more love, understanding and communication amongst all individuals around the world.
Fox Searchlight will release The Birth of a Nation nationwide on October 7th.