Thursday, October 6, 2016

Reel Talk: The Birth of a Nation

Director: Nate Parker

Release Date: October 7, 2016

Synopsis: The rousing story of one man's quest for justice and freedom in Southampton County Virginia.

Review: Whew! Such onomatopoeia is usually reserved for Facebook status updates and whimsical text messages . Nevertheless, it's quite appropriate when thinking of the sheer weight this movie holds, especially in these racially tumultuous times. "Whew" also seems appropriate when I, as a reviewer, have been positioned as the referee between my objective and subjective lenses. But since we are reviewing Nate Parker's The Birth of The Nation, a title that cleverly takes its' namesake from D.W Griffin's cinematically groundbreaking but shamefully racist  film released in 1915, let's go back  down memory lane. I was first introduced to the story of Nat Turner in my sophomore year of high school. Luckily, I attended an institution that had one of the few African American study courses in the state. Instantly , I became enamored with the story of this rebellious servant who went against the depiction of the docile  and subservient slave I had been force fed my entire life. Fast forward to my junior year in college, in which his story was expanded upon by the genius that is Dr. Gayle Tate, and I instantly had a hero that would be forever revered. The running joke amongst my small inner circle was that we would never, EVER, see two films come into fruition: A film about Black Wall Street and a film about Nat Turner! For years, our beliefs were stone cold facts. And though we would be patronized with hollow mockeries such as D'Jango Unhained and (Scratches head) D'jango Unchained, we were nowhere closer to the public being exposed to this polarizing figure. Now, this film steps out from behind the Oscar so White Curtain, to take center stage!

Though I initially chomped at the bit when it came to its' release, I remembered  that I was now a different individual then that sophomore in HS or that junior in college. I was now a thirty something year old who had witnessed a bevy of racial injustices and an all out assault or exploitation on the cultural sensibilities of African Americans. My hard exterior  had been dealt blows and I now bore the tattoos of experience that reminded me of the woes of a racist society. So yes,  as i walked into the theater, I was anxious and reserved, willing and tentative, and any other paradoxical combination you can think of. But what would be the result of my advance viewing?

Well, I witnessed the visceral,systemic breakdown of  a man whose own convictions and beliefs were used against him and his people. I saw a man being choked by the vines found in his own blissful paradise of ignorance but used those some constraints to break free and engage in an internal tug of war between his destiny and reality. I saw a warrior who was forged from fire and now ready to bring damnation upon the wicked. And yes, Nate Parker encapsulated all the characteristics, both in front and in back of the camera, that made Nat Turner a dynamic figure . Sure, there were some questionable editing and cuts that made the viewing a bit  more kinetic than needed but Parker soon reigned it in and allowed the viewer to focus on the delicate nature of relationships, draw one into a world of deceitful tranquility and  immediately thrust all into the darkest corridors of this country's most shameful act. All subsequent actions then lead to a fever pitch  that impatiently gnawed at the viewer's patience as everyone awaited the rebellion that bared temporal vindication, reveled in justified carnage and then escorted everyone from the theater into a state of solemn reflection. 

But it wasn't enough for me! Why? Had my expectations been built so high that anything less than a masterpiece would have been disappointing? Or was I so familiar with the historical context that I simply could not be satisfied with the notion that  "At least the movie got made?".And here lies the philosophical debate that will decide the level of satisfaction one would receive from this movie. As a film itself, the principal actors do a fine job, the scores were suitable, go Nina Simone, and the direction hit most of its' marks. But was it truly remarkable? No! We have seen this story before thanks in part to films such as 12 Years a Slave and the series Underground. Therefore, the fatigue of witnessing brutality against slaves, coupled with the reality that is faced today, left me in a fatigued state.Furthermore, without spoiling the film, the payoff seem truncated and the slight historical revisions left me unjustified.The selling point of this movie was the telling of a narrative that is often ignored in history :the slave rebellion. But I could not shake the feeling that this film had been neutered in a sense.  Simply put, no matter what is  "produced" the distribution companies have the final say in what is released. But I will give Mr. Parker a standing ovation for getting us this far. But once you raise your head and look down the path ahead, you'll realize that our ability to tell our stories with out mitigation or restraint is still off in the horizon.  (B) - CgN

1 comment:

  1. Saw it today. Fatigue is the right word. I'm still not speaking on it much--not speaking at all, really. Something in the pit of my stomach--something in my bones, in my blood--it felt less like history and more like memory. Maybe a few years ago it would have been more satisfying, but (as you mentioned) considering the tensions of today it just made me feel like, "How long!?" That's not the movie's fault. That's the country's fault. - OM