Published on March 22nd, 2017 | by Chris O'Connor
Birth Of A Nation DVD Review
Summary: Before North and South went to war... one slave would bring his people together to stand against injustice!
There have been a number of films in the last few years covering America’s slave owning past. This joins the rank of “based on a true story” tellings and is the story of Nate Turner, a young man whose “gifts” were recognized early not just by his own people but also by his masters family. Little did many of them know just how much of an impact this man would make on the history of the nation.
The film opens with a mystical ceremony in which the young Nat is ushered towards an elder who tells those gathered that the boys bears marks that indicate he is meant for great things… we soon learn that he has a talent for learning to read and is even invited to live with his masters family to further his education. Unfortunately before too long the head of the plantation dies and his final requests included that Nat return to working the fields. Nat takes his learnings (which focused, unsurprisingly given the time and location of the story, mainly on the bible) and preaches to his fellow slaves. News spreads of this slave preacher spread and a cleric convinces the new head of the plantation, Sam Turner, to put him to use helping to preach to slaves on other plantations on the hopes that doing so will both quell growing unrest and maybe increase output. Nate does indeed go out to other plantations (always with his master) to preach… but in doing so he learns just what conditions his fellow slaves live under… he sees the brutal beatings and gross inhumanity inflicted upon them and can’t help but feel moved to make a change. Sure enough Nate does live up to his assigned expectations and he calls the slaves together to rebel against their masters and to take back their freedom… the result may not have been all he had hoped but it is believed that it did play a large roll in moving America towards the Civil War and by extension, the Emancipation Proclamation.
Visually the film uses many stereotypes that are arguably hard to avoid with a piece with this focus… Cotton fields and plantation homes are a bit hard to avoid in telling this story. But the visuals also switch between wonderful views of the stunning countryside to unpleasant and confronting images of slaves being beaten and treated as nothing more than possessions (as they were no doubt thought of). I found one of the most impactful images was of a little white girl skipping along with a black girl skipping behind her…. that may not seem disturbing except for the fact that the black girl had a noose around her neck with the end in the white girls hand… being lead along essentially as a pet… a pet that needed to keep in mind it’s life was in it’s masters hands.
There are a lot of confronting images in the film and whether it sticks closely to the source material or uses a reasonable degree of artistic license to get the story across… surely the core spirit of the film is important and a point of moral shame. That anyone anywhere in the world could treat another group of people so poorly, with such disdain and violence simply because they were different (in the slightest of ways no less) is horrible… that some people still think this way is baffling and a true blight on humanity.
I don’t know that Birth of a Nation will go down with the likes of Glory, or even the recent Twelve Years a Slave (though I feel that Birth of a Nation had a much better flow to the story than Twelve Years a Slave which I feel suffered from not knowing how to tell it’s story chronology smoothly)… it is no less an important story and one that I was not aware of before (or at least I had forgotten… I studied American History many years ago and my memory probably isn’t that good at the best of times). There are plenty of lessons that can be learnt from the film, the notion that the oppression of a people can (and hopefully will) lead to them standing up against the injustice, that violence often begets violence and you can even read into the notion that Religion can be used for dangerous ends… but also that those ends can turn upon themselves.
A painful part of history that is arguably important to know and with our current global political climate perhaps more important than ever to bare in mind.
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Director – Nate Parker
Actors – Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Gabrielle Union, Dwight Henry, Esther Scott
Film Genre – Drama
Label – 20th Century Fox
Audio – English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Subtitles – English
Running Time – 119
Aspect Ratio – 2.40:1
Region Coding – 4
TV Standard – PAL
Rating – MA15+
Consumer Advice – Strong themes and violence
Year of Release – 2016
Primary Format – Movies/TV – DVD