“Birth of a Nation” confronts America’s ugly past
By Kaely Monahan
"Birth of a Nation" fits into the category of must-see at least once. The harrowing tale of slavery in the Deep South. The horror of the film is balanced against beautiful shots and powerful acting.
The film recounts the events leading up to and including the 1831 Virginia slave rebellion. Led by slave Nat Turner, played by the director, Nate Parker, the film doesn’t hold back on the brutality of slave ownership and what life was like for blacks in pre-emancipation times. And it is stomach turning.
Parker does not hold back from the horrific conditions many black endured. There is one particularly tooth-pulling scene that will make you want to turn away. The core of this film will make you feeling sick at the atrocities committed against humanity.
The film opens with a young Nat Turner being singled out for the education—namely being taught to read. However, the only book his truly allowed to read is the Bible. From there young Nat grows into a man of unshakable faith.
Despite his lot in life, Nat is treated with more dignity than most slaves by his owners—the Turner family. He even develops a strong bond with his owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), which started during their youth.
When the Turner estate falls on hard times, Samuel decides to “rent out” Nat as a preacher to other slaveholders
. It then that Nat sees the true horrors of slavery. Most slave owners are not kind like Samuel.
Meanwhile, Nat falls in love with Cherry (played beautifully by Aja Naomi King). He eventually marries her. But when she is jumped by a group of slave catchers, the last straw breaks, and Nat begins to turn his mind to justice and liberation.
What happens next is just as gory as the torturing of slaves. Nat and his followers began killing their owners and in some respects, terrorize the countryside. However, as an audience member, you cannot help but sympathize and cheer for Nat.
But no matter how heroic he is, the question must be asked: is killing, or in truth, murdering, justice? As a country, we are still coming to terms with our past and where slavery fits into it.
“Birth of a Nation” demands your attention and demands you to see the horrific era of slavery for what it is: an ugly truth that America is still reeling from to this day.
Kaely Monahan is a journalist, graduate of City University London and the creator of Popcorn Fan Film Reviews.