THE BIRTH OF A NATION: If a filmmaker’s passion for his subject matter added merit to the finished product, then Nate Parker’s (NON-STOP) saga of the violent rebellion led by Nat Turner in 1831 Virginia would surely appear on many year-end “top ten lists”. But the movie which is co-written, directed, produced by and stars Parker is, for all intents and purposes, a one-man show that relegates the supporting stock characters to near irrelevance such that they drift in and out of the film with no real rhyme or reason. The work is weighted down, too, by what I call the DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990) syndrome where one group of people is ascribed a sort of grace and nobility in contrast to another group that’s depicted as being fools or just downright evil. This degrades the narrative into an obvious melodrama with blatantly inflammatory imagery. That’s not to say that Parker isn’t effective or lacks conviction in his role. But ultimately, we never learn whether Parker’s Turner is an insurrectionist, religious zealot driven to mass murder by the oppression of his race or a formerly subservient slave who’s forced and transformed into taking what he believes as necessary action because of the atrocities he’s witnessed. While the screenplay does bring out the Bible’s “flip-flopping” on slavery (“For every verse they use to support our bondage, there’s another one demanding our freedom”.) and how it motivates the character, it’s also heavy on the graphic brutality of the rebellion which are portrayed as justifiable revenge killings. Since we’re now at a period when our nation is looking inward to solve the dilemma of our racial divide, I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie gets overpraised by critics afflicted with misplaced “white people’s guilt” who are looking for this era’s DO THE RIGHT THING (1989). But the reality is that BIRTH is a movie that will contribute very little to the conversation over such issues. CRITIC’S GRADE: C+
CLOSING CREDITS: Movie historians know that Nate Parker’s work has the same title as D. W. Griffith’s 1915 silent movie classic that follows two families through the Civil War and Reconstruction. Griffith’s lavish epic was the first feature length silent film and brought credibility to a movie industry in its infancy. As masterful as the film’s battle choreography and cinematography is, BIRTH’s most famous (or infamous) sequence is near the conclusion when the Ku Klux Klan is given heroic treatment for either killing or running a gang of black “carpetbaggers” out of town. By taking the title of Griffith’s racist film, Parker felt that he was “reclaiming” the original movie with a new story in a different century for more progressive, tolerant audiences.