Film Review – The Birth of a Nation (2016)

Title – The Birth of a Nation (2016)

Director – Nate Parker (feature debut)

Cast – Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aunjanue Ellis, Jackie Earle Haley, Penelope Ann Miller, Gabrielle Union

Plot – In the early 1800’s America, god-fearing slave and preacher Nat Turner (Parker) endures a life in servitude of plantation owner Samuel Turner (Hammer) but when Nat’s eyes are truly opened up to the widespread mistreatment of his fellow kind, he sets about rallying a group together to rise up against the white man’s crimes.  

“To watch a strong man broken down is a terrible thing”

Review by Eddie on 14/08/2017

It’s quite strange to fathom at the time of writing, that many months on from the initial hype of The Birth of a Nation’s Sundance appearance, where now controversial actor/director Nate Parker found his film to be an early year Oscar contender, that this film was ever talked about seriously as a film worthy of taking home golden statues and becoming a box office hit and after a lacking awards season and a box office run that barely saw the film make back its marketing costs, it seems as though The Birth of a Nation noise was just that and nothing more.

It’s hard to pinpoint just how much of an effect Parker’s past misdemeanours or cloudy background had on Birth of a Nation’s ability to transform the Sundance hype (where it was sold for a record amount of money to its distributor Fox Searchlight) into anything substantial and its likely it did play a large part in hampering its potential as a film audiences flocked to but at the end of the day it’s also likely that those initial vocal supporters of the film realised that this Parker passion project in which he directs, writes, stars in and produces just isn’t that accomplished of a film.

The true story at the heart of Nation, that of slave preacher turned rebellion leader Nathanial Turner is a worthily famous one and while Parker and his co-writer Jean McGianni Celestin  have taken certain liberties with the story for cinematic purposes, Nation just never gets us totally committed to the goings on in the narrative from Turner’s romance with fellow slave Cherry, his commitment to God and the Bible or his eventual rebellion, they all feel like components of the film we should feel more for and while there’s horrific scenes playing out before us (Parker should be commended for showing the true atrocities of the time and not shying away from them) that certainly aren’t for the faint of heart, Nation’s inability to connect us emotionally is a failing that can’t be overcome.

Much of this blame must be placed at the feet of Parker who has taken years to get this story to the big screen, his direction lacks polish with some uneasy surreal dream sequences and visions in particular shoddily done, his acting a little too forced and script work lacking in polish and had he perhaps handed over more control to another it may’ve allowed him time to nail the core of this story that feels half-baked, a college film masquerading as a Hollywood quality drama.

Final Say –

An important story to be told, a film with some strong individual moments and one that in the face of recent Hollywood controversies surrounding lack of diversity and colour representation a timely story too boot, Birth of Nation should never have been spoken about in the same sentence as Academy Awards and while this long gestating Parker project showcases certain abilities for the budding filmmaker/actor, there’s still a long road for him to take before he makes a truly awards worthy film and a road likely that not remains blocked for him forever due to a past that will shadow him in Hollywood for the remains of his career.

2 ½ uncomfortable sermons out of 5

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2 responses to “Film Review – The Birth of a Nation (2016)

  1. “…a college film masquerading as a Hollywood quality drama.” Precisely. As a director, Parker has a lot of maturing to do, but I think as an actor, he was full of passion.

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