Nat Turner Biopic Marred by Director’s Past

Photo courtesy of GDC Graphics, Wikipedia

One of society’s biggest problems today is the unfair and brutal treatment of black men and women, and the racism alongside perpetuated by political figures like Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

It’s no better time for “The Birth of a Nation,” a historical drama directed by and starring Nate Parker, to come out and show how slaves were mistreated in the 1800s. The movie is based on Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in August 1831. Turner (Nate Parker) is an enslaved preacher owned by Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer). Nat preaches to the other slaves, telling them that as long as they respect and work for their owner, they could never do wrong.

As the movie goes on, it graphically shows how slaves were treated terribly in slaveholding households. One of the strongest scenes of the film is when a little white girl plays innocently with her black playmate, who has a rope around her neck. They run happily around, as if the activity they are engaging in is completely acceptable. Another huge problem brought up in the movie – which was another reason for Turner’s revolt – was how black women were mistreated and sexually assaulted.

In the movie, Turner is infuriated by the sexual assault of women. The first on-screen portrayal of sexual violence features Turner’s wife, Cherry Ann (Aja Naomi King), who is beaten and raped by slave catchers. Later on, after an important dinner at Samuel’s house, a visitor requests that one of the slaves, Esther (Gabrielle Union, an actor who has been sexually assaulted in real life), be made to sleep with him.

Ironically enough, Parker himself and his college roommate, Jean Celestin, were accused of sexually assaulting a woman 17 years ago. Parker was found not guilty, but the stain of his alleged crime hangs darkly over his new film.

The rebellion ignites after Turner is punished for baptizing a white man on Samuel’s land. He and other slaves kill their owners and their owners’ families out of revenge for how they had been treated. The rebellion ended in the deaths of approximately 60 slaveholders and 200 black men, women and children. The violence only ends when Turner gives himself up to be hanged.

Overall, the film is exceptionally well done. An excellent score and powerful acting brought to life an important and disturbing moment in our nation’s history.