Hot Take: By twisting the facts, The Birth of a Nation takes liberties where it doesn’t need to. The real story contains enough that it doesn’t need any help.
Any time a movie is “based on a true story”, you’re bound to get differences between reality and the Hollywood-polished movie version. The Birth of a Nation, by first time director and writer Nate Parker (who also starred as Nat Turner), is the latest example of a movie that unnecessarily strays too far from the truth to the point where a potentially great film becomes just an okay movie. If this were a fictional tale, it actually would have been better but as a biopic the film revises history too much in an attempt to incite the audience unnecessarily. And not unnecessarily as the topic is unimportant but the actual story has plenty to incite the audience.
That being said, The Birth of a Nation is a passionate telling of a terrible moment in the history of America. No matter your gender or race, it is hard to imagine walking out of The Birth of a Nation not being angry about our past. The movie examines systemic racism that has existed for centuries and delivers a powerful message. Unfortunately, stretching the truth will damage the credibility of the film in those most ignorant to our past injustices.
Performance-wise, Parker is excellent in his role as Nat Turner. Across the board, heartfelt performances are delivered by the slaves and cringe-worthy performances are delivered by the slave owners. The cringing isn’t due to poor performances but the haunting images of those treating other humans as something sub-human. It’s not easy to watch. The brutality of some scenes are on par with other films falling just short of The Passion of the Christ-level imagery. Actually, it’s more difficult to listen but not see (or only receive a glancing view) of the violence as your imagination runs wild with what you’re hearing.
In the end, though, the movie fails to be a good biopic because of its distortion of the facts as we know them about Turner. Reason being is that while there is plenty to incite the supporters of his actions as righteous, the vocal minority will point out the unnecessary misrepresentation of facts as a reason to not value anything this movie has to say. And that’s a shame as this powerful film has a message worth being heard. It should disgust all audiences and provide a bridge to better understand our past to bring us closer together in the present. However, those inconsistencies will likely lead to further divisiveness. But then again, for those more concerned about proving the film wrong, maybe there isn’t much hope for them anyway.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Parker’s Passion
You can feel Parker’s passion for the tale throughout the viewing. Not only through his words and direction but throughout his performance. He delivers a convincing turn as Turner and leaves you with powerful images to remember.
- The Desperation of the Times
As times got tougher for the slave owner, times got even more challenging for the slaves and that is depicted with stunning effect. You’re rarely allowed to look away, either.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Myth of Nat Turner
Turner’s story is compelling enough without creating a more mythological telling of his tale. There are also details left out on purpose to not cast any shade on Turner.
- The Road More Often Traveled Is Also a Long One
For a film with such a strong start, it ends up basically being Braveheart. We’ve seen Braveheart before.
- Parker’s Past
Parker’s checkered past is murky. It’s not worth putting him on trial here but many will not be able to separate the artist from the man as details of a 1999 rape allegation and the victim’s suicide in 2012 dominated pre-release hype.