Nate Parker stars in the Nat Turner biopic film, Birth of a Nation. While most true story adaptations include a few embellishments, don’t go into this expecting anything remotely accurate. After having done some research, very little of what is presented in this film can be found as historical fact. What Parker has created is a sloppy, amateurish, slavery pain-porn film, rife with Christianity overkill. It’s a mockumentary of Nat Turner’s legacy and tries to trick its audience into thinking this is an actual part of history.

From birth, Nat Turner (Nate Parker) has been blessed by God with the power to free the slaves. The slavemasters, overseers, his family, and other slaves knew that Nat was special. He was taught how to read the bible and ordered to give sermons at a young age. He was treated “well” as a house slave until it was decided that he belonged in the field picking cotton. As an adult, Nat became a well-known preacher on his plantation. Word got out about this, and Nat and his master Sam Turner (Armie Hammer), agree to take Nat on a plantation tour to preach to other slaves about obedience to their masters. This was done in an effort to curb any talk of revolution or uprising among local slaves. However, seeing the deplorable conditions other slaves were in, stirred something within Nat. It isn’t until personal tragedy strikes his family that he decides a full slave revolt is needed to free all of his people from bondage.

The story of Nat Turner and his pre-civil war slave revolt seem to be missing from the history books. Many do not recall hearing about Nat Turner in school. This is a story that needs to be told but told the right way. If researched, it’s easy to find that this revolt was not a success. The point is Turner and others simply grew tired of the mistreatment and wanted to strike back at the oppressors. With the many flaws this film has, the setting (the antebellum south), and costumes are gorgeous. Parker really put a lot of time and effort into making the film look as authentic as possible. In addition, there are some powerful shots he manages to achieve while acting as the film star, director, producer, and co-writer. Unfortunately, this is where the positives end. Telling a coherent, believable, and original story, would have added weight to the film experience.

This is a major problem with the story and the movie. Nate Parker is wearing too many hats. Something was bound to suffer with him in charge of everything. He was able to get funding and distribution for the film from Fox Searchlight, but the writing takes a hit. He produced the film and handled the logistics, but his directorial flaws are ever present. Parker has not directed a film before. Some scenes are not in focus, other scenes lack the depth of field, and then the color is off in others. It’s just messy. His performance also suffers. He isn’t charismatic and is so stiff it seems he is reading his lines from a teleprompter. There is a great supporting cast here but they aren’t given as much attention. Although, Armie Hammer’s as Sam Turner gives the performance of his career.

There is no balance in Birth of a Nation. At least 90 minutes of the120-minutee film is filled with scenes of harsh abuse of slaves, Nat Turner preaching, crying, praying, more abuse, women being disrespect, and a cool 12-minutes of the actual slave revolt. Which is what the audience was there to see. The slave revolt. Parker wants us to know that slavery was horrible, but the audience should knows this. There is no satisfaction during the anti-climatic battle because there isn’t enough time to absorb it. Then there is a copious amount of faith-based references about relying on God to save everyone. In every scene, the audience is beaten to death with Christian references. Sure, you can’t talk about slavery without referring to Christianity, but the film isolates its audience by aiming to cater to a religious crowd. In fact, Parker paints Nat Turner as a Christ-like figure, equipped with 12 disciplines, including his own Judas type betrayal, and a death that mirrors Christ crucifixion.

Birth of a Nation does not contain the cinematic quality of 12 Years A Slave, the powerful storytelling of Roots, or the war aspect of a film like Glory. It is your standard, the run-of-the-mill film that reiterates what we already know about slavery and offers nothing new. Parker would have turned over a better movie had he stuck to one thing and put all his energy there instead of going too many places with this story. Nat Turner has a rich history so it may be better to read books on Nat Turner and his slave revolt. Watching Birth of a Nation is no way to learn about such an important an historical figure in African-American history.

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18 thoughts on “Birth of a Nation is Poorly Done Slavery Pain-Porn

  1. That final (anti-climactic, seriously maybe lasted all of 5 minutes after setting up for an eternity) battle blatantly ripped off Braveheart. Same use of camera angles, fight choreography and camera movements.

    Both Nate Parker and Armie Hammer overact the crap out of their roles in this movie.

    Also Parker omitted the very fact that Turner was a violent murderer who also slaughtered Women AND children in his attack(s). The screenplay he co-wrote chose instead to portray Turner as a Jesus like figure.

    I was absolutely appalled to see the idiots around me at TiFF give this a standing ovation. Save your time and money.

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    1. violent murderer? really? i read about nat turner as a child and i would not call him murder. He along with a majority of slaves more than likely wouldnt blink a eye when killing a white person regardless of age or gender. white women were not saints during slavery times and more often than not they were worse than their male counterparts.

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    2. Arnie Hammer is handsome, but can’t act his way outta paper bag. I mean did you see this guy in the Lone Ranger remake and that throw back spy flick with Henry Cavill? (JEEZ-US!) What was it called? It also co-starred Alicia Vikander….

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      1. Yeah, the Man from UNCLE. I was all set to see that movie, and was bitterly disappointed. I should’ve known better after I got burned watching Lone Ranger. That man has all the acting skills of a head of lettuce. He is pretty though.

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  2. given how the movie Powder was done in by one producers pedophile past, I am surprised how the Parker rape charges have played against this dubious remake.

    DW Griffith’s Broken Blossoms might have been more interesting to re-do.

    mind, Mel Gibsons’ anti-Jewish comments made the media ignore the sugartits portion of that… hardly brave at all.

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      1. he’s not good, just prolific. from his once standing up on a daytime talk show and showing his ass with the quip, it’s for shitting, he homophobia’ed out the gate, before he anti-Jewed or bashed on women. He’s not even actually Australian, his family moved there from America when he was 12.

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      2. Yeah, I d heard about the homophobia, and anti-Semitism too, but only after that last scandal. And then I heard what his father was like and realized he didn’t fall far from that rotten tree. I can’t even watch his old movies without thinking about what a vile person he is. And there’s a few others sitting next to him but not quite as bad, according to rumors, like Christian Bale.

        I don’t know. Some actors you can just look at them and can tell they’re a**holes. Some of them surprise you.

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  3. The writer of this review ignores the thousands of white Americans that believe slavery wasn’t all that bad. I.E. “Why would any master abuse the help he needed to be successful in running his venture.” Any chance we have to remind America how vicious and ugly slavery was, we should. It wasn’t a couple of lashes across the back and then back to the fields.

    Yes, white children and women were killed in the rebellion, that’s how war works. You kill the enemy with the hope that you kill them all. Why would you leave some to reproduce or mature and take revenge?

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  4. An unanswerable question perhaps, but wondering if you think, with the release of Luke Cage, the impending release of Black Panther, and this recent renaissance of new POC content, we might finally be moving beyond the slavery/POC suffering-porn?

    Some days I think we are, and some days I’m not so sure. I remember Joe Morton writing about this issue a few years back in an essay, saying that he would like to see more than black pain on the silver screen. He referenced the stories of black cowboys in the same article, which coincidentally was brought up recently again in the Atlantic article, “How the West was Lost.” Wonder if we might get some of those stories made into movies anytime soon?

    I also know that this isn’t a dilemma for just black filmmakers in the US. This is a problem for filmmakers from “developing” (ie. mostly non-North American, non-European) countries too when they are showing their films on the international film festival circuit, because the film festival circuit is still dominated by yt European countries (Cannes, Berlin, New York, Toronto, etc.). I think there are many who feel like they need to make poverty-porn, suffering-porn films in order for the powers that be to see their movie as “serious” or “socially aware” and thus awards-worthy. Because if POC films aren’t about POC suffering, it’s not serious? Or awards-worthy?

    One issue at a time though. We just got through #oscarssowhite. But I wonder if this (yt) fixation on POC suffering-porn will be addressed in the future too.

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