The Birth of a Nation Review
By Zain Hashmat
When Nate Parker made his feature film debut earlier this year at Sundance, the audience went crazy, calling the film a masterpiece and skyrocketing the Nat Turner biopic straight into Oscar consideration. This was the riveting breakout film that people had been craving for the longest time. Once Fox Searchlight bought the film rights for a record $17.5 million, the October 7th release date was set, and it couldn’t come sooner. But now October 7th has come and gone, and no one is really talking about The Birth of a Nation at all anymore. There are two major reasons behind this. First, Nate Parker’s rape case and his refusal to apologize cast a shadow over the release. Secondly, the film just isn’t that good.
When I watch a movie I try my best to separate the film from the director, so that’s what I’m going to do here. Nate Parker’s history, no matter how controversial, doesn’t matter when it comes to critiquing the film itself. What’s my opinion on the film? Eh. The Birth of a Nation suffers from issues that many first features suffer from, and the main issue is almost always the direction. Parker’s direction is very “in your face.” He never lets the film stir or calm down. Every moment and every scene has this giant sense of self-importance and necessity. Parker constantly uses slow motion and often cuts to “deep”, “artistic” imagery in the middle of scenes. This use of close-ups and slow motion is a bit jarring. It’s all too precise, too concentrated, and it doesn’t come across as natural.
The story is extremely moving and inspirational, and getting a closer look at the intelligent and caring Turner makes both the loss of the rebellion and his death even more tragic. But instead of letting the scenes and the story speak for themselves, Parker throws us constant shots of intense imagery that basically say “Look what I did” and “This is how you should feel.” It seems that Parker wants us to appreciate his direction more than the story itself.
The film works on many other levels though. One of the best aspects of the film is the the acting, done by an astounding cast. Parker actually stars as Turner, giving a careful performance that is quite resonant and beautiful. Parker began his career as an actor, and this advantage really shows; certain moments of Turner’s suffering (no spoilers) are pulled off perfectly. Aja Naomi King plays Cherry with a delicate, sorrowful touch, and there’s a beautiful innocence that she brings to the character.
However good the acting may be, Parker still misses the ball when it comes to pacing. The beginning lags, and although it’s intriguing at points, the build-up for the end just isn’t there. The film contains a variety of scenes and moods that don’t mesh, with Parker attempting to create epic, stirring emotional moments where they don’t really fit. The film’s story is an important one that must be told, but unfortunately, Parker doesn’t do a fantastic job of executing it.
6/10 - Nate Parker’s passion to tell a great story is evident, but he doesn’t do the story justice.