THE BIRTH OF A NATION Movie Review by The Commander


3 (out of 4 stars)

There has been a lot of controversy regarding writer/director/producer Nate Parker and his new movie, The Birth of a Nation.  The controversy has nothing to do with the movie, it has to do with a criminal indictment over 20 years ago regarding a matter where Parker and his roommate were indicted for rape;  a charge which Parker was later acquitted.  In the film, there is a rape scene, but how this is related to an actual incident 20 years ago makes no sense.

The Birth of a Nation centers around Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a literate slave who became a preacher in the Antebellum South.  The film chronicles his upbringing as a child, becoming a house slave for Samuel Turner’s (Armie Hammer) family, and being taught English under the guidance of Samuel's wife Elizabeth (Penelope Ann Miller).  Reading from the Bible, Nat becomes a preacher for the Turner’s family slaves. 


Word of Nate's preaching ability to calm suffering slaves spreads throughout the southern plantation, leading Samuel and Nat to travel to perform this service in exchange for financial compensation.  This keeps the Turner plantation from becoming insolvent. 


As Nat witnesses countless atrocities against him and fellow slaves, he orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading the slaves to freedom. 


This was a good movie, regardless of any outside distractions.  While a little long, it was a powerful film of one man's struggle for freedom against all odds.  Jackie Earle Haley plays Raymond Cobb, a slave enforcement officer, who hunts down renegades and executes them for leaving their owners.  By doing so, he puts the fear into other slaves from trying to escape their confinement. 


My concern is that with other such similar films, 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained, Roots, etc., this film does not stand apart.  It just becomes another movie on the subject, which leads it into the realm of commonality.  One of the reasons could be the inexperience of Nate Parker as a director.  Directing a film is a tough job, and it becomes even more difficult when you have to be the producer as well as the film’s star.  You simply cannot put in as much time, thought and detail into the direction required to make the film stand out. 


While I enjoyed this movie, I kept thinking to myself: ‘Haven't I seen this before?  Didn't I just see a movie like it a few years ago?’  While I enjoyed the performances, I was just uninspired overall.  It was difficult to connect with the issues during that time in history.  It did however provide another understanding of the struggles that existed during that era.