I went to this screening dreading the brutality I knew I was about to witness. Films about slavery and the Holocaust always have the same effect on me. They wipe me out emotionally, and no matter how many times I see movies that deal with these horrific events, it’s still hard to fathom that ‘man’ could commit these atrocities.
Unfortunately, watching ‘The Birth of a Nation,” written and directed by Nate Parker, who also starred in the film, I felt strangely detached. I was not emotionally moved. I don’t know if this was caused by the fact that Parker did too many things and lost his objectivity, but the film just lacked the power that I expected it to have.
Nat Turner was a slave who became a preacher. He told his flock that he spoke with “the Spirit” and his slave owner, Armie Hammer, used him to appease other unhappy slaves on neighboring plantations. In the beginning, his preaching was benign, but that soon changes when his wife Cherry Ann (Aia Naomi King) is beaten and raped by several slave catchers. But what finally pushes him over the edge, is when he sees another woman, Esther (Gabrielle Union) get raped with Nat’s owner’s blessing. That’s it for him…Nat’s days of being a peaceful warrior for God are over.
The film is filled with white folks doing all of the horrible, vile deeds that you’d expect to find in a movie about slavery, including Jackie Earle Haley, a so-called policeman, whose sole job is protecting the slave owners from their slaves and preventing their escapes.
By the time Turner decides to rebel, it’s almost anti-climatic. It seems like an afterthought. Yes, all of these monstrous things happened, but Parker seems to be hitting you over the head with it. I kept flashing back to the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave,” which was one of the most powerful, moving films on this subject that I’ve seen in a long time. Unfortunately, “Birth of a Nation,” although an important movie historically, simply did not compare on an emotional level.
I gave “Birth of a Nation” 3 bagels out of five.