“The Birth of a Nation” Celebrated Among Controversy
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
The original two-part film by Griffith followed two families during the Civil War and Reconstruction, one of them pro-North, the other pro-South. With the help of the Ku Klux Klan, everybody (except for black voters) finds peace. Right.
However, Nate Parker places the nation’s birth at an earlier epoch. His new film tells the true-life story of Nat Turner, a Virginia slave who led a rebellion in 1831. Some 65 white people died; more than 200 slaves were killed by militias in putting down the two-day rebellion. Turner was eventually caught and hanged.
“The Birth of a Nation” is currently stirring up audiences at Tropic Cinema.
Shortly after Nat Turner’s execution, attorney Thomas Ruffin Gray published a pamphlet titled “The Confessions of Nat Turner” based on a series of jailhouse interviews. This is the main source for knowledge about Turner. In 1967 William Styron wrote a same-named novel that won the Pulitzer Prize. Nate Parker based his film on a story by himself and his old college chum, Jean McGianni Celestin.
Parker says, “(Nat Turner) became my hero in college. I never heard about him until I went to college.” In a 2012 interview with Essence.com, the then-actor prophetically said, “I’d love to play Nat Turner.”
Leap forward in time: In addition to directing, co-writing, and co-producing the epic drama, Nate Parker also stars as Nat Turner in this new film.
When “The Birth of a Nation” screened at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Parker received a standing ovation. The film won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize.
Parker and Celestin’s success has been marred when a rape charge from their college days came up. Although both were eventually acquitted, the victim committed suicide.
Therefore, this becomes one of those films -- like those by Woody Allen and Roman Polanski -- where you have to separate the merits of the creation from the personal life of the creator(s).