Birth of a Nation: Recap and Review

If you have not seen Nate Parker’s biopic on Nat Turner’s Rebellion, “Birth of a Nation”, stop reading, head to your nearest theater to watch the film, and then come back.

Ready? Good.

“Birth of a Nation” is one of those films that you’re not happy to watch. First of all, you already know the story. Unless you skipped the few paragraph devoted to black history in your high school text books, you were bound to hear of Nat Turner’s 48-hour rebellion. You already know that while Nat raised hell for a few hours, things don’t turn out well for him in the end. But what’s really important about Nate Parker’s version is that the story being told is so much more than a “slavery” story. It’s also a love story and a coming of age story. We are able to see Nat Turner transform from a little boy, molded by slavery, to a grown man who is compelled to action in spite of it. Those few paragraphs of Nat’s rebellion are brought to life on the silver screen and provide more depth and humanity to Nat’s story than ever before.

The film details the characteristics of different relationships in his life in order to paint the picture of how he came to lead the rebellion, such as his relationship with his family, his wife, his white slave master, religion, and himself. Specifically, the film relies heavily on Nat’s relationship with religion and the Bible. At a young age, Nat was taught to read the Bible, which became a dominating force in his life. Given his early indoctrination with religion, he eventually becomes a preacher and the plantation owner and Nat’s white childhood playmate, Sam Turner, “rents” him out to neighboring plantations to spread the gospel and preach obedience to other enslaved people.

Throughout the course of Nat and Sam’s preaching trips, Nat is overwhelmed and confused by his role in promulgating obedience and finds himself becoming uneasy. This growing uneasiness paired with the brutal rape and battery of his wife are the catalysts that lead Nat Turner and his fellow rebels to kill over 50 people. Nat was eventually captured and killed, but his legacy lived on and he is shown to be an inspiration to a younger enslaved boy, who ends up fighting in the Civil War for his own freedom.

Overall, the film is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have been waiting for Hollywood to recognize black directors, actors, and stories. As you leave the theater, you will feel anger mixed with a disbelief that things like that could have actually happened, but you’ll also feel a sense of pride. Nat Turner represents some of the best that America can offer: the idea that you have control over your destiny. Nat Turner took his life into his own hands and refused to believe that an enslaved life was all he was destined for. His experiences in slavery led him to action and that action cemented his place in history as an agent of change, a warrior, and, most importantly, a rebel.