One man can make a difference in the lives of countless others. In the film The Birth of a Nation, that man is Nat Turner (Nate Parker). A slave who is owned by the man he grew up alongside, Turner finds himself educated by his owners and a rarity in the South as a literate slave.
Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer) is trying to keep his property afloat. When the Reverend (Mark Boone Jr.) suggests that Samuel might hire out his slave, who is trained in the Word of God, to help calm other landowners’ slaves, Samuel takes their money and their hospitality and offers up Nat’s services.
Nat loves the Gospel — he’s studied it for years — but seeing the way the plantation owners twist the Word to try to both motivate and subdue their slaves ignites a fire in him. Samuel was once friendly to Nat, but seeing the rise of Nat’s conscience, he uses physical punishment to try to rein him in. That punishment strengthens the fire within Nat and helps to create the man he is becoming. That man is strong, independent and ready to lead the birth of a nation.
Slavery is a tough topic to deal with. It was a violent time in our collective history that makes strong people weak and weak people crumble at the treatment of American men and women. Nate Parker not only stars in the film, but he is also the cowriter and director of this dive into America’s past. He does a wonderful job of setting the tone and establishing the mood of the time.
Your heart breaks for the characters in the film as they face the most unfathomable moments. When a female slave is ordered to please one of Samuel’s male visitors with no desire on her behalf, we as viewers weep. As slaves are beaten and physically abused for little more than being nice to a child, the thought can’t help but enter our minds — how did anyone ever think this was acceptable?
The entire film is a teaching tool. It illustrates behavior that was once considered acceptable and now makes us sick to witness. It’s important that we see films like The Birth of a Nation to remind us not to make those same mistakes.
There are other factors that will affect a viewer’s choice to see The Birth of a Nation. Nate Parker and his co-writer’s personal demons have made news and could influence the decision to see this film. I’m simply looking at the film and not the filmmakers’ personal lives. The Birth of a Nation is a powerful addition to the historical landscape that is offered via film. I think the question remains, can we learn from our mistakes?
Birth of a Nation is available On Demand beginning Jan. 10. Check your cable system for availability.