Sunday, September 11, 2016


I remember feeling a little betrayed when I finally saw the first trailer for Birth Of A Nation. For months leading up to that all we got were these cool-looking images of slaves covered in paint ready to go to war. I was sold. I thought we were getting a different kind of slave story (for those that don't know, Birth Of A Nation is the story of Nat Turner's slave rebellion).

But once the trailer for Birth Of A Nation finally dropped I remember thinking that it looked like a generic slave movie. Sure, the story of Nat Turner hasn’t been explored on a major cinematic platform until Birth Of A Nation so Nate Parker does deserve some kind of credit for that. I also appreciate Nate Parker taking the title of one of the most offensive-yet strangely celebrated films in cinematic history and turning it upside down. And not only did he take DW Griffith's 1915 movie title and flip it, but he completely flipped the stock imagery of the fire-waving klansman into strong rebellious (BLACK) men...

There are even small references to the classic imagery of Nat Turner's rebellion in Birth Of A Nation...

But at the end of the day I don’t see much of a difference between Birth Of A Nation, certain aspects of 12 Years A Slave, Underground, The Roots remake, and just about any recent slave story. I’m sorry to break it to you all but Birth Of A Nation is just "ok" in my opinion. And that's frustrating because the story of Nat Turner is more than "ok" or "pretty good". No matter my skepticism, I didn't go in to this screening wanting to dislike it. In fact, the film starts out with a great sequence reminiscent of something from Julie Dash's Daughters Of The Dust. But things quickly dissolved in to the typical slave movie tropes one would expect.

(Some) audiences have already decided that this film is a masterpiece so there’s no sense in trying to debate or convince them otherwise. But if you're a rational thinking person (or have high standards in cinema), I think, when you finally see this, you'll get where I'm coming from. And I assure you all that my overall disappointment with this movie has nothing to do with the resurfacing of the rape case that Nate Parker was involved in 17 years ago. Birth Of A Nation is just bland for long stretches (or for me at least).
12 Years A Slave kind of raised the bar in my opinion. And if you’re going to follow that, you need to do a better job or move on and tell a completely different story and tell it better). Some might argue that it isn’t fair to compare 12 Years A Slave with Birth Of A Nation but Nate Parker practically gives me no choice. Outside of the basic plots of both films being pretty different, Birth Of A Nation follows the same format as 12 Years (and other slave narratives). There’s the rape scene, the whipping scene, the James Bond-esque slave master villains, the overbearing gospel humming soundtrack, the sympathetic white character (are we really still doing that in 2016?), etc. Now…I understand that if you’re going to tell a story concerning slavery that all of those elements should be shown, but when you see everything coming from a mile away it just makes things predictable and its not as enjoyable to watch (in my opinion).

And please understand that I’m not one of these misinformed Black folks that doesn’t want any more slave movies. America was built on the backs of Slaves. It’s the most important element of U.S. history as far as I'm concerned. In my opinion, a handful of slave movies isn’t enough. I think there should be more. But just make them interesting. Don’t play it safe. Make strange editing choices. Hire an interesting cinematographer. Stuff like that. Some of you may consider my criticism to be nitpicky. And that’s fine. But for me, if we’re dealing with history (especially slavery) I, as a Black person, want historical (and harsh) accuracy. I want uncertainty. I want discomfort and to not feel safe. Besides the climactic rebellion sequence (which held back nothing in terms of violence), Birth Of A Nation did none of that for me. But perhaps some of you reading this will have a different reaction than I did.

If you’re willing to put aside all my criticisms (along with the controversy concerning Nate Parker), the story of Birth Of A Nation is an important piece of American history that should be seen no matter how lukewarm I personally am towards it or what my personal opinion is towards Nate Parker's past (I absolutely hate falling in to this way of thinking but the historical elements in The Pianist had nothing to do with Roman Polanski’s personal scuminess. Plenty of people supported that film because the history was bigger than the filmmaker just like in the case of Birth Of A Nation). I don’t discourage anyone from seeing this but at the same time it’s totally understandable if you don’t want to support this movie. I get it. There's enough evidence concerning Nate Parker to confirm that he sexually violated an unconcious woman. Quite frankly I think as a society we’re way too forgiving. We dislike/vilify folks one minute then two weeks later we change our minds because someone wrote a sympathetic Huffington post article. It’s time for folks to be more consistent and stick with a belief/way of thinking for an extended period of time.

Anyway, like I said – this movie already has a built-in audience of people who will blindly support it (given how hard certain Black people are supporting this film you’d think Birth Of A Nation was the only outlet where one could learn about Nat Turner’s legacy which is completely ridiculous).
There are a few unique stylistic choices that stray from the typical formula that these kinds of movies follow, but for the most part you kind of know what to expect.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...