From David N. Butterworth@21:1/5 to All on Sun Apr 23 16:09:49 2017
THE BIRTH OF A NATION (2016)
A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2017 David N. Butterworth
**1/2 (out of ****)
"Though it is a painful fact that most Negroes are hopelessly docile, many
of them are filled with fury, and the unctuous coating of flattery which surrounds and encases that fury is but a form of self-preservation."
--William Styron, "The Confessions of Nat Turner," 1967
Overshadowed, to its severe detriment, by the 1999 rape case involving
its director Nate Parker and co-writer Jean McGianni Celestin, "The Birth
of a Nation" arrives bruised and bloodied, but not without its merits, especially the film's many fine performances. There's Parker himself, as
the literate slave preacher Nat Turner (the real-life revolutionary on whom Styron's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was also based), Aja Naomi King (TV's "How to Get Away with Murder") as Turner's wife Cherry, and "Little
Children"'s Jackie Earle Haley as the evil bigot Raymond Cobb. Armie
Hammer is, perhaps, a strange choice to play Samuel Turner, the Antebellum plantation owner who strikes up a deal with the local bigwigs to use
Turner's preaching to put restless slaves in their place; he doesn't quite
have the acting chops required of the role, but Penelope Ann Miller, who
plays his pallid wife Elizabeth, does.
Winner of last year's Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, "The Birth of a Nation" (the title echoes D.W. Griffith's
racist melodrama from 1915) is a surprisingly competent production from a first-time director. The film's size and scope is significant, chronicling
the 1831 uprising of enslaved and free African Americans in Southampton
County, Virginia, yet the subtle (and not so subtle) shifts in time keep
the film's pace mostly even. Of course, the theme of man's inhumanity is
often painful to watch. Parker might well be the breakout filmmaker to
watch looking forward... if he's ever given the opportunity to work in this town again.