Director: Nate Parker (2016) BBFC cert: 15
This well staged period drama is based on the little known life of Nat Turner, a messianic Virginian slave who led a short lived rebellion in 1831.
He’s played with impassioned sincerity by Nate Parker, whose considerable ambition exceeds his determined grasp as he produces, writes and stars in his directorial debut.
Parker doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the slaves lives nor the bloody retribution they visit on their owners. But moments of soap opera mix uneasily with melodrama, the finale is undermined by the budget and the story template is familiar from Spartacus (1960) and Braveheart (1995).
Turner rightly points out the bible is employed to justify both sides of the conflict. As such the central struggle within The Birth Of A Nation could be interpreted as a religious war as much as a racial one. However no-one pauses to consider the good book may be part of the problem, not the solution.
The changing economic climate of the period is suggested as an exacerbating factor to the insurgency, but again Parker misses the opportunity to link the issue to contemporary politics.
The heavy handed use of Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit serves to denude the song of power rather than enrich the film as presumably intended. It’s a cheap exploitative move worthy of Zack Snyder, and hopefully one Parker will avoid in future.
An episode from the directors personal life has overshadowed the film which was once considered a contender for best picture at the Oscars. But I doubt it would have gone the distance anyway.