The Birth of a Nation is based on the true story of the 1831 slave revolt led by Nat Turner. Pluses? Birth of a Nation has lots of them. Nate Parker — who directs, writes and stars — is charismatic, and he’s surrounded by a good supporting cast. Even though his movie crawls in spots, he’s a pretty good writer and director.
Parker plays Turner as a man who has visions and who believes — and whose family and friends believe — is destined to be a great leader. So he’s played as a kind, deeply religious Christian forced to preach the gospel to slaves on plantations other than his own. He’s also a slave, so his sermons are supposed to keep underfed and horribly mistreated slaves in line.
A couple of devastating and every ugly events happen to Turner, and he flips. The rest is history, or at least Parker’s interpretation of history.
Earlier, I italicized the words based and true. Don’t worry, though I am going to be a bit critical of Parker’s film, overall I liked the movie. But criticism of a film in this genre gets tricky. In the past, for so-so reviews of race-oriented movies like Selma, which I didn’t like, and 12 Years a Slave, which I thought was pretty good but not close to a best picture, I was labeled a racist. Writing that Brokeback Mountain was just pretty good got me called a homophobe.
So I approach my knocks on Parker’s film with trepidation. This movie is about a historical event. My biggest criticism is that while Turner and other slaves were victims of a degrading and unjust system and the rebellion was righteous, Parker paints Turner as a bit nicer than he might have actually been. Or so my limited research says. Considering the social struggle now occurring in this nation, if one is going to do a historical biopic, one ought to endeavor to be as accurate as possible.
And that leads to this: I am a movie critic and I’m reviewing a movie. Doing any kind of criticism is akin to tiptoeing through a minefield. A film review is about acting, directing, storyline, writing, editing, etc. and it is not my place to judge history. This is a well-done, dark, gritty movie about the biggest black eye in this country’s history, even if it didn’t unfold exactly like Parker’s movie says.
Birth of a Nation
Director: Nate Parker
Stars: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Aunjanue Ellis, Colman Domingo
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated R for extreme violence, brief nudity. It’s playing at Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco 12 and Queensgate 12, and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen.
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.