BIRTH OF A NATION
Nate Parker stars, directs and even wrote the screenplay for the new film about the slave rebellion in Virginia led by Nat Turner called “Birth of a Nation”
Years before the civil war erupted, a young boy named Nat Turner was growing up on the Turner plantation (slaves took the last name of their owner as they were property). Nat was raised by his mother after his father ran off to avoid being lynched after killing a slave hunter when he was caught stealing food. Nat would also take books from the main house and taught himself how to read. Elizabeth Turner (Penelope Ann Miller) found out about Nat and instructed his mother to send him to the main house and he would be taught properly. Mrs. Turner gave Nat a bible to read and study.
Nat grew into a young man and began to preach to the other slaves on the plantation. Following his father’s death, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer)took over the farm. Mrs. Elizabeth left to live with her daughter Catherine and her new husband on a neighboring property. As a gift Samuel, after being prodded by Nat, bought a slave girl Cherry (Aja Naomi King) to serves as a house girl for Catherine (Katie Garfield). Nat was infatuated with Cherry and would take every opportunity to go to see Cherry. Nat would eventually marry Cherry as they jumped the broom. Cherry still remained at the other farm with Catherine.
Word got out about the Turner farm and how there was never any issue with the slaves there. Rev. Zalthall (Mark Boone Jr.) suggested to Samuel that he take his slave preacher to other farms to help get their slaves in line. This would generate the much needed money for Samuel to keep the farm. Drought was keeping crop numbers down and putting the crunch on the farmers. Nat agreed and then got his first look at what slave life was like at other farms under abusive owners. One such farm had a slaver force feeding his slave who had refused to eat by chiseling out his teeth and putting a funnel down his throat. I could barely watch parts of this film because there were brutally gruesome. There were whippings, beatings, rape and murders, this all before Nat decides to rebel.
Samuel becomes a lonely alcoholic and soon falls in line of the rest of the slave owners. He has Nat whipped when the educated slave objected to Turner giving a friend of his a slave girl for the night. This was the event that set Nat Turner in motion to revolt against the slave owners. August 1831, Nat assembled a band of slaves and murdered Samuel Turner and his overseer in their beds. As they moved to other farms, the band would grow with slaves that want to riot. By the time they made it to the local armory, Nat Turners revolting slaves had killed almost 65 people. As a result of the rebellion, slave owners hung over 200 slaves from the trees in the county.
Turner would escape the armory as the only survivor, and eventually turn himself in. The educated slave would be hung for his crimes and the body separated into pieces and burned around the county. Nate Parker gave a very good performance in the lead role as the educated slave turned rebel. Jackie Earl Haley is slimey as a slave catcher that chases after Nat’s father, participates in Cherry’s rape and is at the armory battle with Turners slaves. Birth of a Nation is a good film. It has good performances, but also some weak ones (Nat’s mother and Hammer’s drunken Samuel). My biggest problem with the film is that we have to get through 90plus minutes of background before we get the final 25 minutes of battle.
If you are a fan of historical films or a Civil War buff, then I recommend checking out a matinee of Birth of a Nation, otherwise wait for this one to come out on DVD so you can watch it in the comfort of your home.
Running time 2hrs