‘Birth of a Nation,’ powerful retelling of Nat Turner’s story, resonates with audience

Nate Parker as Nat Turner in The Birth of a Nation. (Sony Pictures)

If you can watch Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation and not leave the theater affected in some way or another, you just may not be human.

“It is very powerful,” declared moviegoer Andra Robinson of Brooklyn Park to the MSR after viewing the film.  She attended the September 22 screening of the film at Southdale Mall’s AMC Theater.  The movie is based on the story of Nat Turner who was enslaved but led a rebellion of slaves and free Blacks in Southampton County, Virginia in 1831. Parker co-wrote, co-produced, stars in and makes his directorial debut in the movie.

Watching “Nation” felt reminiscent of watching Roots when it first premiered in the winter of 1977. Both showed life for Blacks and Whites in antebellum America in not too flatteringly fashion.

The film chronicles the story of Turner from childhood to leading fellow slaves on a two-day rebellion shortly after his wife was brutally attacked by slave catchers for fetching water without her papers. Turner was excellently played by Parker.

Aunjanue Ellis and Director/Producer/Writer Nate Parker on the set of "The Birth of A Nation"
Aunjanue Ellis and Director/Producer/Writer Nate Parker on the set of The Birth of A Nation Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

That scene was one of several that will make you wince at the thought that, as brutal as the on-screen depictions were — Parker pulled no punches — it merely scratched the surface of reality for Blacks back then.

“It is something you should have dialogue” about after watching the film, stated Twin Cities Black Film Festival (TCBFF) Founder Natalie Morrow, who sponsored the screening as a prelude to the 2016 festival October 6-9 in St. Paul.

Parker appeared at the 2008 TCBFF and told Morrow then of his plans to write and produce a film based on Turner. “He took eight years to do it. I think Nate did a very good job,” she said.

Since its premiere earlier this year at several film festivals, controversy erupted when accounts of Parker’s involvement in a 2001 rape were brought to light. He was charged and later acquitted of the rape, and in 2012 his accuser committed suicide. Consequently, calls to boycott the film rang out by some on social media.

When asked, Robinson acknowledged that some may not go to see “Nation” as a result of the rape case, but she added that she hoped many more will choose to see it.

Morrow reiterated that the film’s powerful story was mainly effective because Parker told Turner’s story from a Black man’s perspective.

“We came from slavery. He [Parker] chose to educate” those who’ll watch his film, said Morrow. “People don’t often see what [Blacks in slavery] really went through. We don’t know how emotional it was for them.”

Finally, those who attended the screening offered no applause as the closing credits rolled. Rather, everyone briefly talked about the “emotional trauma” of seeing the movie and how they shared in the characters’ pain displayed on screen. “[It] really resonated with me. I highly recommend this movie,” concluded Robinson.


Birth of A Nation opens nationally October 7. Visit www.foxsearchlight.com/thebirthofanation for more movie information. Check local listings for show times.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.