Birth of a Nation Is 'Much-Needed' Punch to the Gut

It's 'deeply absorbing' but not without faults: critics
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 7, 2016 11:16 AM CDT

Its namesake released in 1915 has become synonymous with racism for its veneration of the Ku Klux Klan. Nate Parker's Birth of a Nation aims to tell a very different story, focusing on Nat Turner, leader of an 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia—though the media focus lately has been on Parker himself. Here's what critics are saying:

  • This isn't "revisionist history. It's a much-needed—and beautifully realized—corrective," writes Tirdad Derakhshani at the Philadelphia Inquirer. It's "fast-moving, deeply absorbing, and thoroughly exciting." And though it's "not the most daring work of cinema … it displays a mastery of the form rare for a first film—with outstanding performances across the board."
  • "Parker creates a grand period film that, despite its indie budget, carries the sweep of such epics as Braveheart and Spartacus," writes Sean P. Means at the Salt Lake Tribune. His starring role as Turner "is as explosive and heartfelt as his movie," adds Means, who notes one character's words—"they're killing people all over for no reason except being black"—"jump through 200 years of history to wake everyone up to horrors that have never gone away."

  • Dana Stevens at Slate describes the film as stylish and suspenseful, but she sees one glaring problem: "There’s a deliberate mythmaking quality to Parker’s reconstruction of the real-life Nat Turner, who was a much more morally complex figure than the righteous avenger Parker writes, directs, and plays him as." After all, this is "a man who countenanced the killing of children."
  • As Adam Graham at Detroit News puts it, "The Birth of a Nation aims for the gut and hits its target. Had it aimed a little higher, it might also have hit the mind." He argues the film is successful up until the revolt. There, "Parker makes it too easy for the audience to pull back as he revels in gorehound trash that is out of place with the tone of the film," which fails "to rise above its own thirst for revenge."
(More movie review stories.)

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