Trigger warning: Please be advised that the following review covers sensitive topics, including sexual assault.
I wish I could spend this review belittling Nate Parker and his pretentious movie “Birth of a Nation” with snarky comments about how this supposedly high-brow movie doesn’t handle a slave rebellion as well as “Django Unchained” did, but I can’t. Parker’s actions outside the film are disgusting and shouldn’t be celebrated in any fashion. Don’t waste your money buying a ticket to this film. That money will only go towards normalizing Nate Parker’s despicable actions.
If you’re not in the know, Nate Parker and friend Jean McGianni Celestin were tried for sexual assault. While Parker was acquitted (which is in no way the same as being found innocent), Celestin (who participated with Parker in the crime) was found guilty. The evidence incriminating both Parker and Celestin doesn’t end there, however.
During the trial, phone calls between the victim and Parker were brought in as evidence. I implore anyone who is on the fence about what to believe about this trial to look at the evidence, read the coverage and make their own opinions.
I think it is clear from these phone calls that Parker did in fact take advantage of someone who was in no way able to give consent. Not only this, but Parker has actively denied any wrong on his part and has painted himself as the victim.
Outside of this, the movie itself is disappointingly mediocre. The best thing the movie has going for it is how the rebellion is depicted. Instead of the plot solely serving to justify the rebellion at the end, the rebellion is the logical consequence following the actions shown in the plot.
With any type of film, it is always satisfying to have a movie successfully play off the build-up it has been creating throughout. I thought that the attention given to Armie Hammer’s character’s downward spiral into alcoholism and gradual growth into an abusive person was an effective way to make the events leading up to the rebellion feel relatable and human. We get to see that humans were involved in both sides of this conflict.
That being said, way too little time is spent on the rebellion itself. There’s really only one fight scene, and it’s about 10 minutes long and isn’t particularly brutal. Don’t write this off as me just being a raving film-goer that needs guts in order to enjoy their movies, but when a movie is about the bloodiest slave revolt in American history, I feel like it is a failure on the creator’s part if I leave the film thinking, “Well, that was tame.”
By contrast, the movie does try to portray the use of violence in a realistic manner, and I’d say it succeeds in that regard. But this isn’t a book; it isn’t enough to just talk about violence. If a film is about violence, then I’m going to be expecting to see some violence.
In terms of acting, Parker completely hams up the role of Nat Turner. Parker’s depiction of Turner is the acting equivalent of what happens when you leave your eggs on the stove for a couple minutes too long: The dude is stiff. He can’t decide if he wants to deliver his lines with an almost Shakespearean type of cadence, or if he wants to make his lines seem grounded and realistic.
The supporting cast, on the other hand, was very well acted. I never felt put off or let down by any of the supporting cast members. The actors who played the plantation owners, for example, all did a wonderful job at portraying really terrible people without being overly cartoonish.
I would even argue that most of the supporting cast members did better jobs than Nate Parker himself.
The female supporting cast especially deserves recognition. Nat Turner’s grandmother, played by Esther Scott, consistently stole the scene from Parker when the two shared the screen.
This is surprising if you look at just how little these actresses were given to work with. The female characters in this film are simply cardboard caricatures for Turner to interact with. They don’t exist outside of scenes involving Turner.
The worst example of this is towards the end of the movie where Turner goes to his mom and his wife telling them about his planned rebellion. They both just say something along the lines of, “I always knew you were going to do this” and then aren’t seen again until the rebellion ends.
Part of me can’t help but wonder how much of this imbalanced portrayal of female characters comes from Parker himself. Although Parker credits himself as the lead writer for the film, he did not write this film entirely on his own. His friend Celestin (who committed the crime with Parker) has also been credited with writing the screenplay.
This movie doesn’t deserve your support because Parker hasn’t recognized just how serious the consequences of his actions are. Not only this, but any support this movie does receive goes towards normalizing Parker’s atrocious behavior.
Parker claims that this movie, though historical in nature, was made to create a discussion about race in America. I respond to this by saying that you don’t need a movie to have a discussion.
If you want to watch a movie about a rebellious slave, go watch Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 film “Django Unchained.” It handles and depicts the act of rebellion so much better than Parker’s film, and it doesn’t include the pretentious use of religious allusions like “Birth of a Nation” does.
Whatever you do, just don’t spend money on “Birth of a Nation.” Parker simply does not deserve any form of success after the way he has acted.