Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Colman Domingo, Mark Boon Junior, Aunjanue Ellis, Dwight Henry, Gabrielle Union
Directed By: Nate Parker
Plot: A film adaptation on the life of Nat Turner, a slave preacher who led a slave uprising. It takes him from his life as a child, learning to read, to an adult, where he falls in love with Cherry (King) and is taken around to other plantations to help try and stop other rebellious slaves. He can’t stay quiet for long.
Before we get into this, I’m reviewing The Birth Of A Nation, a film directed, produced, written, and starring Nate Parker. I’m doing this completely subjectively, and with no regard to his scandal whatsoever.
What Works: Aja Naomi King is fantastic in this. She does basically nothing in How To Get Away With Murder, but she has some really great moments here. If there’s one thing that makes me angry about Parker’s scandal, its that King’s Oscar chances went out the window. She desperately deserves a nomination, or at the very least to be in the conversation. Everyone is so afraid to talk about this film, but you could just nominate King, and I’d be fine with that. She’s the one factor in the movie that most warrants a nomination, and you wouldn’t be celebrating Parker at all. Parker himself does a good job, but I can’t help but think that there have been better, similar performances. For example, Chiwetel Ejiofor really truly gave everything. I think Parker is still growing as an actor, and this is just a good early performance. In fact, I’d say the rest of the supporting cast do good work, not necessarily stand out work, but good work. Aside from King, the other things I loved were the score (or really, the use of negro spirituals in the film), the general production design and look of the film, an the editing. I’d say this film is paced really well. It could have gone on forever, but it is cut to just the perfect length.
What Doesn’t Work: There are some liberties taken with the actual story of Turner, to make him more likeable. For example, his owner had a wife, who got killed also in the uprising. That doesn’t happen here. His owner is single. I hate to compare it directly to other films, but it just doesn’t have the weight of something like 12 Years A Slave. Maybe it’s because the performances were just good, not great, and the only weight was carried by King. 12 Years had Ejiofor, Fassbender, Nyong’o all acting their faces off.
Final Word; Since this film is being ignored by the year end awards, I’m glad that I didn’t actually love it. I’m glad we’re not a nation of hypocrites. There just simply are better films this year. It’s a good film, yes. But there are much better films, and better films on the same topic. However, I will be remembering Aja Naomi King’s performance for years to come. She’s absolutely fantastic, in the same way Lupita Nyong’o blew me away a few years ago.
Final Grade: B+