The Birth of a Nation
(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Nate Parker, Writ. Nate Parker, Jean McGianni Celestin
Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aunjanue Ellis, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Dwight Henry, Aja Naomi King
Nate Parker certainly has potential as a director, but The Birth of a Nation doesn’t quite merit the thunderous hype from Sundance. As first features go, its ambition outsizes its finesse as Parker’s story of Nat Turner, a Virginian slave who led a rebellion against the ruthless plantation owners and slave drivers of Southampton County, as the filmmaker’s inexperience in writing and direction tells Turner’s saga with a mix of powerful, underdeveloped, and stilted scenes. Parker’s film borrows heavily from other dramas that cover similar terrain, for lines of dialogue, like an auctioneer’s sales pitch for slaves, seem to be ripped verbatim from 12 Years a Slave, while the haunting fantasy images of Parker and co. caked in white dust are straight from War Witch. As Parker leads the Gangs of New York bloodbath and the film climaxes with an exaltation for Turner, Parker’s admiration for this historical figure is strongest in his performance as the rebellious preacher.