The Birth of a Nation is a film that can be summed up in a single word: anger. It’s a film entirely built around emotion and it has a powerful message. While the cinematography is well done, this is not a film about style, but substance. It’s about the story of Nat Turner and his rebellion, igniting the raw emotion of the fight for equality.
While watching the story of Nat Turner and his rebellion, it is hard to not feel the anger the film wishes to convey. There are several scenes in the film that stand out. The moment when Nat’s wife, Cherry Turner, is beaten by a group of white men for leaving her owner’s property without a pass, despite only being on the edge of the premises, is one such moment.
However, the film feels like a series of moments meant to convey emotion. These moments don’t necessarily add to the film itself. Moments such as Nat’s dream sequences, while symbolic of his struggle, don’t contribute to the film’s message, but take away from it instead.
The film stars Aja Naomi King as Cherry Turner, Nate Parker as Nat Turner and Armie Hammer as Samuel Turner, the man who owns Nat. Hammer in particular has a powerful performance as the conflicted slave owner who doesn’t like what he does or what he sees but stands by and does nothing. This results in his character’s death at the hands of his own slave, Nat.
The message Hammer tried to send with the character of Samuel Turner is that you can’t just stand by when others are being hurt. That makes you just as guilty.
This film is about the anger that black men and women felt in 1831. That anger still resonates today in the Black Lives Matter movement.
However, on top of the anger that Parker, who also directed the film, wishes to convey, it is a well-directed, well-acted and well-written film about the fight for equality and the anger and resentment that motivates it.
Every shot in the film shows the struggles of slaves of that time. Often this would leave the viewer feeling as though the film were trying too hard to be artistic. But the conviction the film shows more than makes up for any flaws in its narrative.
The Birth of a Nation has a powerful message. It is a film built entirely on the anger of a repressed group of people. With whispers of an Oscar nomination before the film was even released, it is clear the message of this film was being heard before its release date. As Chris Rock said at last year’s Academy Awards when no black men or women were nominated for an Oscar, “people went mad.” The Birth of a Nation looks to change that this awards season.