The Birth of a Nation Review – Powerful, Mesmerizing, Absorbing, A Triumph

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The Birth of a Nation, from Fox Searchlight Pictures, presents a powerful depiction of the true story of a literate slave, gifted by God, and the dominating satanic influences that are the catalyst behind an uprising that results in a stand for freedom.

Directed and written by Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation stars Parker, Gabrielle Union, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Roger Guenveur Smith, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Junior, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Dwight Henry, Esther Scott, Tony Espinosa, Jayson Warner Smith and Jason Stuart.

The Birth of a Nation opens as a young Nat Turner, played by Tony Espinosa, is taken into the forest for an African dedication ceremony. What is left of the African tribe remains faithful to the cultural ways. In the original African language, the trial leader blesses him. He is the leader; he will lead a people.

Returning to his master's plantation, he like the young Sam Turner, the white boy who would inherit the plantation play typical childhood games together. On this day, young Nat Turner, spies a book and with speed and deftness like the breeze, the book is gone. And soon we see him sounding out the words.

We meet Miss Elizabeth Turner, played by Penelope Ann Miller, when she approaches Nat's mother, Nancy, played by Aunjanue Ellis, and explains that Nat can read. The slaves knew one thing even while they were on a "good" master's plantation, the wind could blow the wrong way and bring in abuse.

Miss Elizabeth, a good woman with deep and genuine religious convictions, took young Nat into her home and saw to it that he became a house man, proper, with skills, and the ability to read. She taught him from the Bible and the genuineness of her heart and his sincere seeking heart led God to endow upon him the gift of preaching.

After some time, he stood in front of an all-white congregation, properly dressed, with the Word as his shield he spoke with wisdom and manna unknown. He was sent back to the fields as his gift upset the balance of life in antebellum south.

Unable to silence the calling, Nat was given the freedom to hold church on the land. The word spread through the county that he could calm the anger in the souls of the slaves with his words.

One morning, Reverend Zalthall, played by Mark Boone Junior, arrives on the steps of the Turner Plantation and after a quick brandy the Reverend explained the purpose of his visit. The word was Sam Turner's Negroes were so well behaved possibly he could rent out his negro preacher to the other plantation owners. It seems the others in Southampton County Virginia were having problems with their Negroes wanting to run away.

Soon Nat and Samuel were traveling to other plantations and the vile truth of human degradation and what men will do when he has complete control over another becomes painfully obvious. Deplorable conditions, the scenes so graphic and painful to watch, the treatment vicious.

And today Nat was called to calm the soul of the crushed. To lift up the bruised reed He promised not to break, the wounded soul, nearly destroyed from the burdens of hate and evil. It wasn't the backbreaking work that destroyed the soul, it was the subhuman treatment, the violent evil that tore through the heart.

Evil, the insidious evil of slavery, the debase brutal offensive physical treatment. The determination to destroy the spirit, to make a people subject in fear. Violent, unspeakable horrors, torture chambers, grown men and women gagged, bound, stretched, beaten, raped, sodomized, lashed with cat o'nine tails, thrown in boxes, buried in the heat, all in the name of submission.

It was difficult to watch the account on screen, as The Birth of a Nation is a true story and the account of a gifted preacher, a black man, free long before the noose ended his life. He was called to give the soul freedom and hope of physical freedom to those held in bondage.

Throughout the film Nat has visions, an ear of corn filling with blood, a foretelling of the battle and the blood would spill into the fields, of angels.

The Birth of a Nation also depicts how the soul of the good man, of someone who knew right from wrong, is pulled, dragged down with each compromise into becoming what he saw, not what he revered, or desired, simply what he saw others tolerate without external repercussion, his own internal torment was calmed by the drink.

The Birth of a Nation is filled with deeply resonating performances and talented actors. Gabrielle Union, who does not speak throughout the entire film, is shown in beauty and in distress. Her ability to project both emotions without words attests to her profound talent. I want to add should Academy Award nominations be available for non-speaking roles, as it is for the performance, I would certainly suggest her's is Oscar worthy.

The Birth of a Nation is graphic. It is brutal. It depicts a life of torture and hatred of violence and good men turning bad through influence.

Of course, the Nat Turner story is well known. He led a revolution, the Negroes who tolerated the repeated torture and violence rose up and determined to end their slavery and be free fought back.

The revolt brought a hell upon the surviving Negroes that they had never imagined and was best summed up by Isaiah, Master Turner's House Negro, played by Roger Guenveur Smith, upon hearing of the revolt, "We dead already."

"A Strange Fruit" played while the camera panned the Magnolia trees.

To say I liked The Birth of a Nation is, and I've felt this recently, a betrayal to the subject. A film that must be seen and must be understood of a season in American history that should not be repeated.

Removing the chains and keeping the mind enslaved and subject to torture is not freedom. Public shaming, brutality, physical violence and abuse is not a free people. Controlling the mind, influencing others to participate in the subjection of anyone, males, females, children, is not a free people.

The storytellers, those who are enlightened, have the responsibility to present truth and continue to free the people from the mental torture, from fear that incapacitates, mutes, kills and destroys destinies.

I expect The Birth of a Nation to be around during awards season and I also expect to hear media rants after the announcements, as per usual, of the Oscars biggest snubs.

The Birth of a Nation opens Friday, October 7, everywhere. It is not to be missed.

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