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Recommended age 15-18
120 minutes
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BIRTH OF A NATION, THE cover image Click to play video trailer
The name of this movie is very fitting. It's an ironic title that, no doubt, has a connection to the 1915 silent epic with of exactly the same name. What's the irony? The 1915 The Birth of a Nation is one of the most influential films of all time. I've seen it and it is a masterpiece of cinema. Essentially, it is the Citizen Kane of its time, but it has an abysmal message. It encourages and praises the Klu Klux Klan and the movie did, in fact, have a huge influence in rekindling the rise of the KKK during the first half of the 20th Century. So 2016s The Birth of the Nation, which comes out over a century after D.W. Griffith's film, is fittingly named after it. Considering that Nate Parker's film is about rebelling against oppression with the backdrop of slavery and racism, the title adds a stark, ironic contrast.

The 2016 film is an account of the Nat Turner slave rebellion. Nate Parker plays the leading role. He is supported by Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley and Aja Naomi King. The all perform wonderfully in their roles. They are believable and honest with fine characterization. Though, it's clearly Nate Parker's show.

What I want to focus on is the direction. Nate Parker also directed this picture and I must say, I like his style. I fully expect people to compare this film with the 2013 Best Picture Winner 12 Years a Slave and have discussions on which is better. I contend that 12 Years a Slave is better, but they are not really comparable. Nate Parker directs this film with honesty, which is a polite way of saying brutality. He doesn't shy away from the violence and he shows shots that get across the inhumanity of the time. But he also mixes in a very cinematic touch. By that I mean he emphasizes the major moments with a sweeping score, he captures emotionality with close-ups, and he includes shots for the sake of beauty. Whereas 12 Years a Slave is unrelenting realism, without hint of sentimentality or cinematic nature. One thing I do appreciate with Parker's direction is that he isn't afraid to inject some humor. I actually think, within the tone of the film that is brilliant. It isn't as light as Django Unchained, but there are a couple of moments, a couple of scenes that relieve us of the heavy, draining nature of the movie, and nothing is taken away because of it.

The script, which was written by Nate Parker, is a good script. Though there are minor dialogue exchanges I could have done without and there are minute moments I would change, all in all he gets across his message. There are some VERY powerful moments. As a matter of fact, one scene in particular, where slaves are shown hanging from trees, and the camera slowly pans backwards until we see them in a medium shot, is one of the most powerful scenes I've ever seen in the movies. And, I've seen a lot of movies. The way Parker frames them and positions them, they look like hanging ghosts, haunting the land and our memories. Combine that image with the sound of "Strange Fruit" playing in the background, one can't help but tear up. I did. And what makes that scene work is that is sums up the nature of the film. Nate Parker could have left that scene silent without a score or song, and just show that image and it would have polarized us. But by having "Strange Fruit", a song about lynching, play in the background, we are brought to emotion. It is a powerful scene.

So, I congratulate Nate Parker on his fantastic directorial debut. He is the true auteur on this, having starred, written and produced it. It is not perfect. It is flawed, but it is effective. There are some narrative issues and directorial inconsistencies, but the story and passion behind the choices cannot be denied. Because of that I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 15 to 18. It can be seen at a local theater near you.

Reviewed by Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

KIDS FIRST! does not, as a rule, review R rated films. However, due to the subject matter, we did decide to review this but with the warning that this is not a film for young people under the age of 16. It has very graphic scenes of violence which, unfortunately, accurately portray the reality of the times. But, please approach this film with caution and do not take young children to see it.
Set against the antebellum South, THE BIRTH OF A NATION follows Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), accepts an offer to use Nat's preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities - against himself and his fellow slaves - Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom. This film is rated $ for disturbing violent content and some brief nudity.
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