TIFF Review: ‘The Birth of a Nation’ is Familiar But Effective

There is little doubt Nate Parker has made a potentially good film, but what keeps it from being a great film is its maker, that same Parker, who as the director and star has turned an important film into something of a vanity piece. The movie is good and he is good in it, but it takes a long, long time getting to the rebellion, and there are a lot of close-ups and monologues for Parker before the film comes to a violent conclusion. Other directors have done it, I know, just as other directors have attempted to tell stories from the American Holocaust that was slavery, and that often leaves this film feeling clichéd, familiar. That said, it has moments that soar, moments of horror as all films about slavery do, much heartache and pain, and love.

As a white man I will never understand what it is to be hated for the color of my skin, or prejudiced against We live in far more civilized times so I cannot even begin to feel what the slaves on America felt. Their pain goes much deeper than their skin that is for sure; it bruised their souls and in many ways still does.

Nat (Nate Parker) is marked as a man of God while still a child and grows into a fiery preacher for the slaves on the various plantations in the South, the hope being he can help to quell any uprisings the masters fear. Realizing they are outnumbered by the slaves this has become and would remain a very real fear.

As he moves from place to place with his master, his one time play mate Samuel (Armie Hammer) more and more he sees the atrocities committed against the slaves, horrible things such as rape and beatings until finally he cannot bear it and something is done to his wife and then to him. He decides, with the other men, to lash out against the masters and bring them down.

Parker is a very good actor, and he gets to do a lot of acting in the film, as he has written himself a plum role. So good is his part, no one else, save Hammer and Jackie Earle Haley as a slave hunter get a chance to do very much.

I liked the film, very much, though I felt it was a little too familiar, and that we have been here before. It is handsomely shot, beautifully put together for a picture that had so little money, and takes some bold risks in its narrative and images. For so long the title of the film has meant a racist filled study of the Civil War with white actors in black face playing blacks, not anymore, Parker has given us The Birth of a Nation, one filled with great power and truth.

Rating: 3/5