MMT Quick Review: THE BIRTH OF A NATION by contributor Darryl King

The Birth of a Nation

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 (photo courtesy of Darryl King)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.

GIVEAWAY: advanced screening for THE BIRTH OF A NATION Monday, October 3 (Philly, PA)

the-birth-of-a-nation-poster

MMT has secured passes to an advanced screening of the highly anticipated film THE BIRTH OF A NATION on Monday, October 3.

Set against the antebellum South and based on a true story, “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, his wife Cherry (Aja Naomi King), and fellow slaves – Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

To try your luck at an admit-two pass, you must be a subscriber of this website and send an email to contests@musicmoviesthoughts.com with the subject line “Nat Turner” and your full name in the body. 40 winners will be selected and notified on Friday, September 30.

You can watch the trailer below and get additional information at the film’s official website here. THE BIRTH OF A NATION opens in theaters nationwide on October 7.

Good Luck!

 

MMT Quick Review of FREE STATE OF JONES

Free State of Jones

I screened FREE STATE OF JONES last Thursday night, and really debated with myself if I would share a review or not. It wasn’t that I felt the film, which was released nationwide in theaters on Friday, was bad. However, I do have some reservations about my judgement due to the content and theme of the film, and the timing of its release prior to the Sundance hit THE BIRTH OF A NATION – which will portray the true story of real life African-American slave/preacher/activist/martyr/hero Nat Turner on the big screen.

In “Free State of Jones,” Matthew McConaughey plays Newt Knight, a Mississippi farmer who, after losing his teen nephew in a battle and realizing the poor are fighting a “rich man’s war,” leads white farmers and runaway slaves in a revolt against the confederacy during the Civil War.

Academy award-nominated writer/director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games, Big) heavily weaves a story that puts on display Knight’s civil rights efforts, his falling in love and taking as common law wife a slave named Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and even introduces (somewhat awkwardly about a quarter of the way through the film) an alternate storyline, which finds his great-grandson embroiled in a 1948 court battle and accused of committing miscegenation (marriage of two people from different backgrounds, in this case black and white).

McConaughey, Mbatha-Raw, and several of the rebels – especially Mahershala Ali as escaped slave Moses – give outstanding performances, despite the fact that it felt like the movie was inserting every piece of information Ross located about Knight’s actions after the war – which made it drag like an after-school special that should have been two parts instead of one.

Add that to the fact that I’d already felt like this was just another version of the white hero saves the day story, which seems to have no problem getting greenlit in Hollywood, and it certainly didn’t help my skepticism – or the fact that I admittedly checked my watch at least three times during the 2:19 minute run.

With all that said, the fight scenes were compelling, and I appreciate that, in his storytelling, Ross didn’t omit that it would not have been paradise amongst the rebels – where including slaves was concerned. Again not a bad film, just one I would have preferred to watch in the comfort of my home versus the theater.

But Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” on the other hand…I’m just saying, there with bells on.

That’s my take, but you know the drill – would certainly appreciate hearing yours in the comments!

Until next thought, Thomasena

 

 

 

 

 

MMT November 2015 Netflix Picks

Happy Saturday MMT Fam! I know it’s the end of the month, but it’s two days left – so you can still consider these November picks! 🙂

My first pick – the Array release Mississippi Damned – is a powerful example of great story-telling – although I will admit it was a bit heavy for me during the first viewing (trigger warning for anyone who’s experienced any sexual or domestic violence).

The 2009 début film – based on the life of writer/director Tina Mabry – follows three sisters and their children through various courses of poverty, heartbreak, betrayal, addiction and abuse. Yet it depicts hope and opportunity via a character named Kari – portrayed beautifully by Tessa Thompson (Creed, Selma, Dear White People).

The performances in this film are amazing, and I dare you to watch it without tearing or becoming angry at least once. I had to watch it twice, because it was so much happening I thought I’d missed something the first time – yes I went through various emotions, it was that deep. But I loved that it ended with a note of hope, and could appreciate the story it took to get there.

My second Netflix selection is an absolute fave – Night Catches Us – starring Anthony Mackie (Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Hurt Locker) and Kerry Washington (Scandal, Peeples, Django Unchained). Brilliantly shot in my hometown of Philly, this 2010 début film  – by writer/director Tanya Hamilton – tells the story of  ex-Black Panther Marcus (Mackie)  who returns to Philadelphia for his father’s funeral. Marcus knows it’s not going to be an easy visit as many people still hold him responsible for the death of a Panther leader right before he left town. While trying to convince everyone he’s not, Marcus reignites his relationship with Patricia (Washington) – who happens to be the widow of the slain leader.

Anthony Mackie in this role “gives me life.”  I think I fell in love with a fictional character watching this film! And I know it’s apparent, but yes I do love shouting out my hometown! However, it’s far from bias with this movie, because the cinematography is gorgeous and the storytelling is highly exceptional.

One more thing: the soundtrack was done by homegrown music legends “The Roots” – with Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter multi-tasking by portraying Marcus’ brother Bostic as well.

My last pick today is a movie I gave a great review to last year –  and still enjoyed when I watched the second time around – Beyond The Lights. Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood created a gem with this one, and it “burns me up” to think about how under-appreciated this drama/love story is. Here’s a link to my full review of the film, and I’ve added the original trailer below, but I encourage you to add this one to your Netflix list if you haven’t seen it!

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle), Nate Parker (Red Tails, The Great Debaters), Minnie Driver (The Red Tent, Ella Enchanted, Good Will Hunting), and Danny Glover (LUV, Mooz-lum, The Color Purple)  star – and that’s all I would need to hear to get me to watch – but if that doesn’t grab you, know that Mbatha-Raw’s performance as a pop-star battling depression and familial struggle is outstanding. And does Nate Parker do any wrong? I haven’t seen it!

Alright family you know the drill, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts if you’ve seen any of these films – or plan on taking my recommendations. I enjoy getting your feedback!

Until next thought, Thomasena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MMT Quick Review: ‘Beyond The Lights’

Beyond The Lights (photo: Relativity Media)

Happy Friday MMT Family!  I hope that some of you are already out tonight at the theaters in support of Gina Prince Bythewood’s latest gem Beyond The Lights.  Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker and Minnie Driver, Beyond The Lights is a film with abundant layers, so much so that I dare not simply label it a “love story.”

The film depicts the story of a fictional singer Noni (Mbatha-Raw) who’s dealing with the pressures of fame and – through a desperate, life-threatening act – begins a journey towards self-awareness and true self-acceptance. Accompanying her is Kaz (Parker) a police officer with a bright future in politics ahead of him – who also has to accept some truths about his own journey.

Now if you’ve seen any of the trailers, it’s easy to surmise that Noni’s “mom-ager” Macy, a role delivered skillfully by Minnie Driver, plays a huge part in the pressures experienced by the her daughter. However, the layers of this film!  You know I won’t spoil, but I will say that Mrs. Bythewood is a master at drawing you into each character’s experience and coupled with Driver’s performance – the audience does come to relate a bit more to Macy’s choices and actions towards her daughter.

Okay, so many of you are going to hear from your less emotive friends that they don’t want to see a so-called “chick flick” or something similar.  I urge you to share with them this beautiful comment from a woman, named Stephanie, posted on the film’s Facebook page:

“Saw this in Denver on Wednesday, with my teen son. Exceptionally well-crafted, tastefully shot, great story, and excellent soundtrack. Teen boy said “Kind of a chick flick, but not too much…I liked it!” And we talked about it for an hour after! Not a film I would have prioritized attending, based on title/poster/IMDB – but definitely a “don’t miss” – it’s hard to find a PG-13 with substance!”

Another highlight for me?  The legendary Danny Glover, who plays Kaz’s father Captain Nicol.  Y’all know I love Mr. Glover and would watch him recite phone book entries – I’m not even kidding! 🙂  But seriously, with a standout cast, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s dynamic turn as a pop star – doing some of her own singing,  including an a capella version of  Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” – this is not a film to miss in theaters.  And to my fellow “emotives,” don’t fret. This movie will tear you down at some parts, but don’t worry – you’ll rejoice in the end.

Check out the trailer below and come back and leave a thought or two in the comments section when you see the movie. And all of my giveaway winners, you’re not off the hook! Leave some comments too. 🙂

Until next thought family, Thomasena

 

 

GIVEAWAY: advance screening for BEYOND THE LIGHTS November 12 (Phila, PA)

Beyond The Lights (photo: Relativity Media)

What’s new MMT Family?  As promised, I’m putting up the advanced screening link for the upcoming Relativity Media film BEYOND THE LIGHTS starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker.  If you liked “Love & Basketball” you’re going to want to see this one, also by writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood.

For your chance at an admit-two pass, click here and follow the “Get My Passes” prompt.  All passes and screening seating are not guaranteed and are on a first come-first served basis.

You can read the below synopsis and watch the trailer, and get additional information at the film’s official Facebook page here.

Until next thought family, Thomasena

BEYOND THE LIGHTS

BEYOND THE LIGHTS is the story of Noni Jean, a hot new award-winning artist who is primed for superstardom.  But not all is what it seems, and the pressures cause Noni to nearly fall apart – until she meets Kaz Nicol, a promising young cop and aspiring politician who’s been assigned to her detail.  Drawn to each other, Noni and Kaz fall fast and hard, despite the protests of those around them to put their career ambitions ahead of their romance.  But can Kaz’s love give Noni the courage to find her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be?

Release:                               November 14, 2014

Writer:                                  Gina Prince-Bythewood

Director:                               Gina Prince-Bythewood

Cast:                                      Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver, Colson “MGK” Baker and Danny Glover

Rating:                                 PG-13