Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation is a remarkable piece of cinema, especially from a first-timer. Parker controls this entire endeavor as writer, director, producer, and also stars as the slave Nat Turner. This is a powerful but sad film, though there is a kernel of hope at its center that Parker tries to work from. Based on a the real-life slave revolt led by Nat Turner in the early 1830s, the film offers incredible acting, but suffers slightly from narrative issues and some muddled thematic material. Of course, Parker takes some poetic license with the actual history, and while some of these help the story, others are more egregious and unnecessary. The most definitive aspect of the film is its profound spirituality, which Parker leans heavily on for dramatic justification of Turner’s rebellion, and also as the source of his leadership. Indeed, this is a film about not only racial injustice, but spiritual deliverance. Parker is sometimes lost with exactly where to focus the rebellious spirit, but these small mistakes cannot mar the overall poignancy of his message.
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