“For me, [The Birth of a Nation] isn’t the Nate Parker story,” said Penelope Ann Miller, who plays a slave owner in the film, during a TIFF press conference held today. “This is the Nat Turner story. I would say from most of the interviews I’ve done [that] most people don’t know about the Nat Turner story. I think it’s an important story to learn about. I hope people would give us a chance.”
That has been my feeling all along. If at all possible (and I realize it may not be for some), the subject of The Birth of a Nation — Turner’s leading of an 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia — should be the focus. Nate Parker‘s Penn State history is a tough thing to get around, but Turner’s legend demands respect. He was the first African American in U.S. history to push back forcefully against slavery, some 30 years before the beginning of the Civil War.
Incidentally: A colleague who caught a screening of Parker’s film the other night said that my descriptions of the film have been “too kind.” Among his complaints was his belief that the film takes too long for the rebellion to happen — i.e., roughly 90 minutes.
In my 1.25.16 Sundance review I said that Birth “will almost certainly be nominated because it delivers a myth that many out there will want to see and cheer, but don’t kid yourself about how good and satisfying this film is. It’s mostly a mediocre exercise in deification and sanctimony. I loved the rebellion as much as the next guy but it takes way too long to arrive.”