We all fall short of the Glory of God…
How does one separate the message from the messenger? Is that possible or realistic? With the fallibility of mankind, does it become necessary to be able to separate what’s been created from its creator without endorsing the actions and deeds of the individual? And if one can, is that what makes him/her most human?
Well that’s where I found myself as it pertains to the new movie THE BIRTH OF A NATION. The film depicts the life and times of revolutionary preacher Nat Turner – who in the early eighteen hundreds led a slave insurrection against the oppressive systems and people of the times that was America… that was slavery.
This film was written, directed and stars Nate Parker, a mercurial artist that used his talent to tell a very important story/work. But there is an ominous cloud hovering over the life of Parker – a court case from 1999 where he was accused of rape, but later acquitted.
His friend Jean Celestin (and co-writer of “The Birth of a Nation”) was also involved, found guilty, served time and then had his charges overturned. Unfortunately, the woman involved committed suicide in 2012. Without knowing all the answers, most questions have since been answered by the actions/attitude of Nate Parker.
Why am I discussing this? Because there are many who won’t be able to move beyond the 1999 case, and will form opinions based upon Parker’s seemingly callous attitude towards the woman and her family. His insistence of innocence often comes across as antagonistic – causing the sympathy or support to be gained for Parker and his work by some to slowly dissipate.
So, if the weight of this tragedy and Parker’s past hinders your ability to see and support “The Birth of a Nation” that is understandable. Yet, I believe we owe it to ourselves to explore and dissect this incredible film, based on the merits of its content. “The Birth of a Nation” delves into the life of an important figure in Black history during a time that requires examination.
So, as I sat after viewing the press screening, I felt frozen in time. For me, it had been a long time since I found myself like a deer in headlights after watching a powerful movie. “Good Will Hunting” was such a film.
Because this story is historical, and if you know the story of Nat Turner, the power in it lies not in the final battle but in the journey towards the inevitable. The insurrection led to many deaths and on the surface wasn’t successful, but inside the movement started a revolution amongst enslaved people to fight against their oppressors.
“Birth of a Nation” is a beautiful work of art, strong in storytelling and filmmaking. Starting with the direction, Nate Parker does a wonderful job with exquisite and symbolic establishing shots. The storytelling is slow-paced, and for some could be deemed boring, but it needed to be to be effective in crafting a story without gratuitous violence or sex.
Many slave narratives and shows believe that the emotionality of slavery is found by displaying physical degradation, but a good film can carry the same power within the context of a good script. We don’t need to see the physical manifestation of slavery to know how deplorable it is.
There isn’t much to say about the supporting cast like Gabrielle Union, Aja Naomi King and Armie Hammer because, although they are good in their respective roles, this movie is driven by the main character of Nat Turner, and it his screen time that captivates your soul.
Overall, “The Birth of a Nation” will emotionally move your heart and mind. It will leave you asking questions and seeking answers. Answers that are greater than the movie and the life of Nate Parker. Flawed or not, the artistic creation of this important movie is all the ammunition needed to give birth… to a new nation.
Darryl King is a video director, film writer and avid Marvel/DC comic book/movie lover. In addition to his popular comic book movie reviews, you can check out his reviews of Deepwater Horizon and The Magnificent Seven right here on MMT.