#REVIEW TIFF 16’s “The Birth of a Nation”

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The Birth Of A Nation is a riveting film depicting the life of Nat Turner, an enslaved man who led a slave revolt in Pre-Civil War America in Southhampton County, Virginia during the 1830s.  Slavery and the culture of slavery is the backdrop of the film and the film is based on a true story.

As a precocious child, Nat is taken into the big house by his mistress and taught to read the bible, and develops a gift for preaching the gospel.  Many years later, down and out plantation owner, Samuel Turner, rents out his slave, Nat Turner, to preach and pacify the restless slaves belonging to other plantation owners.

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Nate Parker who stars as Nat Turner, the protagonist of the film, also co-wrote and directed the film.  He gives an Oscar worthy performance of the good natured, sensitive and docile itinerant preacher who is radicalized by his experiences of witnessing to the abused and mistreated slaves of the plantations in the county, dealing with the brutal rape of his wife, and his own mistreatment by his master for the baptism of a white man.  The film dramatizes his life and the events that led to his conversion to take a stand and liberate his people out of bondage no matter the consequences.  The degrading treatment of African slaves weaves itself throughout the narrative against a breathtaking backdrop of beautiful landscape images of nature, creating a dramatic tension and suspense that never lets up and which left me emotionally drained.

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Putting aside the pre-text of the film for it has legitimately reclaimed for itself the title of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film, an ode to the Confederacy and its racist legacy, the text of the film which shines a light on America’s enslavement of a people, and the sub-text of the film, Nat Turner’s own controversial background, the film is a must-see based on its own merits featuring a talented cast of actors including Armie Hammer, Colman Domingo, a well written script, and powerful visuals that will leave you spellbound.

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The elliptical transition of watching a young Nat struggling to pick cotton to emerge as a mature man was not only a masterful stroke of editing but a brilliant way to straddle the two narratives of the child and the man that continues to weave itself through the film.  The film follows a linear narrative of Nat Turner’s life with elements of magical realism and flashbacks.  The music and soundtrack complements the film moving it along and setting the dramatic and visceral tone especially the song Strange Fruit sung by Nina Simone juxtaposed against the reprisals.  Kudos to Nate Parker for creating a visually compelling story of a man’s quest for freedom and social justice and for telling a story that needed to be told.

You can watch it as a riveting historical drama that will move you or as an intimate and moving portrait of an extraordinary man who lived out his spiritual convictions to stand up to his oppressors.  I recommend the film and encourage you to see it.  You won’t be disappointed.

Fox Searchlight Pictures releases The Birth of a Nation on Friday, Oct 7, 2016

stefan

 

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