The Birth of a Nation is a film based on the true story of Nat Turner (portrayed by Nate Parker), an African-American revolutionist and preacher who fought against slavery in the 1800’s. Turner led a group of rebels to revolt against White slave owners resulting in a bloody 48-hour battle in 1831. You have probably heard of this film as it was a point of discussion by audiences and the media in late 2016. This was largely because it was written by, directed by and starred Nate Parker.
The controversy around Nate Parker’s role within this film and the rape allegations made against him are difficult to ignore because he features so heavily throughout the entire production. Gabrielle Union, one of the actresses in the film, stated in an article for the LA times that whilst she believes the movie is an important film, the allegations should not be taken lightly. This is particularly true when considering the inclusion of two incidents of rape to two different women as a motivation for Nat Turner’s revolt, which has been disputed as historically inaccurate. Whatever your opinion, it is important to be aware of these allegations and inaccuracies as an audience member to not be caught off guard.
Sometimes embellishments are necessary for the creation of a biopic, and to be fair, some within the film do add to the overall story. However, points such as the aforementioned rapes that beg the question, ‘Why did Parker choose to take the story this way?’ Turner’s motivations for the revolt are claimed to stem more from his religious beliefs than events as claimed by the film. Some historians have even argued that certain plot points did not occur at all such as Turner growing up with his owner, Samuel Turner (portrayed by Armie Hammer). It is clear that Parker has chosen to emphasise certain aspects to raise the stakes of the film and create more meaning. The lesson here is, as with all biopics, take everything with a grain of salt and do your own research into Turner’s revolt.
As is clear with the MA15+ rating, this movie is not for the faint-hearted. Many of the scenes feature violent and disturbing points that are essential to the overall narrative of the film, particularly when it comes to the battle itself. Whilst some scenes are uncomfortable to watch, they do expose the realities of racism for what it is, cruel and evil. Films that highlight these issues are important because they remind us of the injustices of the world. An audiences’ discomfort and unease is a small sacrifice to make when you consider the realities of being a black person at this time. We are supposed to feel uncomfortable and we are supposed to be horrified. However, do keep in mind, there are many books and literature dedicated to the life of Nat Turner that would be much easier to consume if you can’t stomach graphic violence.
In short, the film is not an inherently bad film in terms of its overall make. After all, Parker is a talented director despite any allegations against him. However, there are many things that made it difficult to watch. These are all considerations to consider before you watch the film.
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