It is difficult to see a movie that arrives in theatres surrounded by so much controversy.
Nate Parker, the director, writer and star of The Birth of a Nation, has been involved in a controversy dating back to 1999 when he was accused of raping a female college student – a woman who sadly ended up committing suicide four years ago.
Many people assumed that this could mean that all the Oscars that were supposed to await the film were now gone before Parker – who was acquitted of the crime at the time – could have even had a taste.
But here’s the thing: beyond all those terrible things that we have heard about Parker in the past few months, there is something undeniable about The Birth of a Nation in itself. It’s a cinematic masterpiece.
Ironically borrowing its title from the extremely racist 1915 movie of the same name, Parker here tells the real story of Nat Turner, a slave from Virginia who led a rebellion in 1831 that resulted in the deaths of over 60 white people – even though hundreds of black people were then killed in retaliation.
The Birth of a Nation contains a powerful message. It is raw, realistic and intense from start to finish, definitely not apt for the weak.
Parker is not afraid of showing the events as they happened, of portraying the appalling conditions the slaves used to live in, and viewers learn of these atrocities at the same time as Turner does – a scene in particular in which a slave suffers the most atrocious dental torture ever to have been captured on the screen.
Nat Turner had to resort to violence and start a revolution because it was the only way to make things change and create a legacy that would truly see black men take part in the birth of the young nation that was the United States back then.
The movie portrays him as a saviour because that is what he became for generations to come, as the film’s prologue indicates.
The Birth of a Nation is harsh and heartrending, but only because that is exactly how the events depicted were. It is also the best movie of the year. Undoubtedly.
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