‘The Birth Of A Nation’ comes into the cinematic world as a companion piece to other films like ’12 Years A Slave’ and Alex Haley’s magnum opus ‘Roots’. As a further document on the African American experience and based on a true story, its lead character Nat enters the story borne on the words of prophecy. He will be a leader of men. The old wise man, his eyes glistening in the crackling firelight, has foreseen it and ‘The Birth Of A Nation’ from this point on is as much about his ascension to manhood as it is about the injustices he will face.
... he will learn to see the world as it is, compared to how it is written.
Quickly marked out as having an aptitude for reading, young Nat is taught by his plantation owner’s wife. Limited to only studying passages of the Bible that preach fidelity to a slave’s master, he will learn to see the world as it is, compared to how it is written. Through his older self, Nat slowly learns that these scriptures can mean different things to different people and that the words on his lips are as much a currency for revolution as they are pacification.
Played by writer/producer/director Nate Parker, his grown-up Nat credibly walks a narrowing path between survival and atrocity. Surrounded by other acting stalwarts such as Colman Domingo and Jackie Earle Haley, ‘The Birth Of A Nation’s’ cast slowly draw you in with their measured performances.
This is not a film that shouts upon its arrival. Starting from a quiet sense of hopelessness, this is a film that documents the spark that lit the fire for the future civil rights movement in America. As equally uncomfortable viewing as the afore-mentioned movies, ‘The Birth Of A Nation’ doesn’t shy away from racial violence. As the insidious nature of slavery taints his world view and the scriptures he is forced to read out loud, Nat knows he must act. ‘The Birth Of A Nation’ is both a dramatisation of that first voice, and how its owner bore a revolution of conscience.