The Birth of a Nation is a film that is the center of a lot of controversy, but I went to see it with an open mind. It was met with critical acclaim at Sundance, but when I realized the audience of Sundance, I knew I should’ve taken it with a grain of salt. I came out of the theater feeling underwhelmed.
For a film that was supposed to center Nat Turner, it focused an awful lot on the brutalization of Black bodies. It was an unnecessary amount. It bordered on feeding into the fetishization of Black pain.
The rebellion, which was supposed to be the climax of the film, fell flat. It felt more like a premature ejaculation. It lasted like two minutes, which isn’t long at all considering the film was two hours. One would think all of that brutalization of Black bodies would lead to something more.
The only Black person with a significant role is Nate Parker. For as much promo as Gabrielle Union did for the film, she was only in two scenes, one a rape scene. She had no lines. The female actors were criminally underused. They were made docile. You hardly noticed Aunjanue Ellis was even in the film. And much like her costars, Aja Naomi King was also wasted.
The white characters were allowed nuance, though. Whether it was the mistress who believed in Turner enough to encourage him to (but only the Bible) or the slave master who juggled guilt with responsibility.
The Birth of a Nation was a swing and a miss. It’s a fine film for those who aren’t too comfortable with Nat Turner, but those who are familiar with his story will be left wanting. It felt more like a vanity project than an attempt to educate the masses about Nat Turner. It’s definitely not a hill worth dying on.
But if you want to see it for yourself, tickets are available here.