I sat between my friend who proudly calls herself “an old school movement girl” having been part of several of the 60’s Black Power movements, and a random White guy, who I enjoyed a long conversation about The Walking Dead Comic and Novels vs the show and Star Wars. We almost got into a discussion about Game of Thrones, but was only able to mock the fact that neither of us believe Winds of Winter will ever see the light of day. Then the theater became dark and then for the next 2 hours I experienced the entire English language’s lexicon for human emotion.
I felt every. single. emotion. possible.
After the movie, random White guy asked me what I thought of the film, which startled me because I was shocked anyone could speak. I simultaneously marveled at and loathed his cavalier attitude, as if we’d just watched Captain America or something. However, instead of reacting the way many Black people feel after watching a slavery era movie i.e. wanting to immediately grab the first White person you see, I answered in the most profound, clearest, and succinct way I could: “wow.”
Birth of a Nation, is not like those other movies.
The tropes we all hate: The benevolent White person, the subservient slave, the Stepin Fetchit house negro, and the violence for the sake of violence and brutality are no where to be found. The hints are there, but in such small doses that they are easy to swallow and miss, because the film provides the necessary context to make them relevant. The relevance is why so many Black people question the need for slavery-era films in the first place.
Birth of a Nation is brilliant. No scene is wasted, and every minute is devoted to ensuring you understand how a slave rebellion is born. This movie threads the needle so carefully that it’s a breath of fresh air. You’ll smile from the level of intelligence inherent in the writing.
What makes Birth of a Nation so great, is that it looks into the mind of the characters and allows the audience to experience each emotion with them. Instead of relying on the audience’s reaction to events unfolding as almost part of the plot itself, Birth of a Nation offers insight into each character’s state of mind. The movie becomes a living, breathing experience and you see the impact of slavery not just on the slave, but also the main White characters as well. The writing and performances make Nat Turner’s rebellion come to life.
The writer, director, producer, and lead actor Nate Parker should be given credit for taking this story and giving it substance. This could have easily been a mere revenge story, but the depth, pacing, and careful attention to detail, allows all involved to perfectly understand the who’s and why’s. Furthermore, the insertion of themes and parallels to the issues behind #BlackLivesMatter were executed with the precision of a master surgeon using a scalpel.
There are those who suggest that we should ignore this movie due to the history and issues concerning Nate Parker and it’s everyone’s right to do so.
I walked into this screening trying to toe the line between support and boycott, but after seeing it, I truly believe that we’d be doing ourselves a disservice not seeing this film. I loved 12 years a Slave, the Roots remake, Django, and others, but I honestly feel that Birth of a Nation is the first one that manages make us think about the movie rather than just react to it. It stands unique in a crowded field.
It’s tragic that the film has such a flawed messenger, but this is a message that should be heard/watched/experienced.
My friend and I couldn’t stop talking about the movie once we found words, she felt invigorated, I felt empty and full at the same time. The random White guy (I should have gotten his name) tried bless his heart, to discuss the film as if it were just another movie, but was silenced from the discussion from 2 different generations of Black people, trying to articulate the hurt, hope, and happiness after experiencing a cinematic feat. Hopefully he got something deep and profound of the film.We sure did. He likened Birth of a Nation to Brave Heart, he was right in a way.
Birth of a Nation hits theaters 10/7/16.