Birth of a Nation is a history lesson that can leave you pretty emotionally drained. This version of Nat Turner’s rebellion against White slave owners is based on a true story and takes place between 1800 and 1831. While there is much controversy surrounding the facts in this movie, one thing is certain, there is lots of blood shed, hate and injustice. Nat Turner (Nate Parker) was a legendary slave because he was perceived as special among his people with special traits and markings that he was expected to live up to. How much truth there is to that perception is anyone’s guess but there was no denying that Nat had above average intelligence and skills. He learned to read and studied the Bible at an early age, taught by his master’s mother, Elizabeth Turner (Penelope Ann Miller) for the purpose of becoming a preacher.
As the movie progresses, one gets the impression that the master, Samuel “Sam” Turner (Armie Hammer) owner of the plantation where Nat Turner lived as a slave, was somewhat liberal and a better master to his slaves than most. There comes a point in the film that you will learn differently. Sam was not as financially lucrative as most plantation owners and began slowly losing his position in society. After accepting an offer from the local preacher, Rev. Walthall (Mark Boone Junior) to get paid for taking Nat around to other plantations to preach to unsettled slaves, it became clear Sam and Nat’s relationship started to change. In the meantime, Nat married a slave girl he had urged Sam to purchase named Cherry Turner, (Aja Naomi King) who eventually ended up residing at a nearby plantation along with Nat’s mother, Bridget Turner (Esther Scott) and their baby girl. Hark Turner (Coleman Domingo), Nat’s closest friend, was first to engage in a marriage celebration to a slave girl named Esther (Gabrielle Union). Esther was also first to experience a violent rape, leaving the biter taste of rage with Hark for which there was nothing he could do anything about. Soon after, Nat’s wife experienced the same fate, only this time it was a gang rape and a beating so severe, Cherry was practically unrecognizable. This is what has caused controversy since history bears no proof Cherry was ever raped. Because Nate Parker wrote, produced and directed this version of Birth of A Nation, critics feel he based Nat Turner’s attack against White slave owners on a rape that never happened. Also, according to history, Nat Turner’s confessions were significantly relevant but was left out of the movie.
As usual, I must stop here because I don’t want to divulge any more spoilers. In my opinion, you need a strong constitution to see Birth of a Nation, it’s not for the weak at heart. There is excessive violence, injustices, murders, graphic slanderers and more. Despite any embellishments, the ugly, horrible, racist, truths are shown and go down as a part of history that cannot be undone. Perhaps the knowledge of Birth of a Nation will resonate with those who bother to go and see it. Learning from our mistakes will keep us from repeating them. Nat’s mother spoke about Nat’s father in the movie saying “I’m glad he didn’t live to see a grown man broke down — it’s a terrible thing to see!” I think Birth of a Nation is a must see, especially in these times of unrest.