THE BIRTH OF A NATION
Genre: Historical Drama
Running Time: 110 mins.
Premise: Based on a true story, with some liberties taken (as they often are in biographical films), Nat Turner - a literate slave and preacher - rallies his fellow slaves for a violent uprising against their owners.
Behind-the-Scenes: There's really no way of getting around the controversy that dogs writer-director-star Nate Parker and the rape allegations against him from two decades ago. You can read all about it here. Fox Searchlight paid a record $17 million for the movie after it premiered to raves at Sundance in January. The title is a reclaiming of the racist D.W. Griffith film of the same name from 1915.
The Good: Parker is a first-time filmmaker but he doesn't show it. This is a confidently made film that looks like it cost millions more than it actually did. It realistically presents but never dwells too heavily on the more horrific aspects of slavery. The acting, particularly by Parker, is fantastic. The ending - although reminiscent of Braveheart in more ways than one - is powerful and will leave most viewers emotionally rattled. One hopes that people can separate Parker's personal controversies from the film because this is a story well told and worth telling.
The Bad: The Sundance hype does it no favors. This is a good film, not a great one, and I can't help but think that Fox Searchlight overpaid for it in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite. The final title cards state that Nat Turner's uprising lasted over 48 hours, yet the movie only gives it 15 minutes of screen time. Seems to me that it deserves more of the focus, especially the aftermath, which is given severely short shrift here.
Should You See It?: Yes. It may not win Best Picture as all the early hype suggested it would, but in the age of Trump, Nat Turner and his legacy are more topical and timely than ever.
Star Rating: ***1/2 out of 5 stars.
Better Than: Amistad
Worse Than: 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained, Glory
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