The Birth of a Nation is a 2016 American historical drama film based on the true story of Nat Turner, the enslaved man who led a slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831. The film is co-written, co-produced and directed by Nate Parker and stars Parker as Turner; it also stars Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Penelope Ann Miller and Gabrielle Union. the movie is Set against the antebellum South, The Birth of a Nation follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), decides to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities – against himself and his fellow slaves, Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.
Parker wisely builds his film, like a gathering storm. We are introduced to Nat as a child, played by Tony Espinosa, the best friend of the white boy, Samuel Turner (Griffin Freeman), who will grow up to be his master at the cotton plantation owned by the Turner family, from which Nat gets his surname. Samuel’s mother, Elizabeth teaches Nat to read, mostly the Bible, nothing that will put dangerous ideas in his head. As adults, Nat and Samuel share confidences, but doesn’t engage in anything that questions the absolute supremacy of the slave owner. Nat is savvy enough to persuade Samuel to buy Cherry (Aja Naomi King), a young slave stripped down by an auctioneer to up her price, who later became Nat’s wife and the mother of their daughter.
A shift of balance in Nat’s relationship with his master comes when Samuel is coerced by the unscrupulous Rev. Walthall (Mark Boone Jr.) to hire out Nat to preach to slaves on neighboring plantations, using the Bible to teach black submission. During his evangelization, Parker lets the dawning realization of horror anchor in Nat’s eyes. Nat sees shocking evidence of sadism, including a brutally graphic scene of a slave, on a hunger strike, getting his teeth knocked out and having food shoved down his throat. Another slave (Colman Domingo) watches his bride (Gabrielle Union) being handed off to a white man for a night’s pleasure. And when Cherry suffers a similar fate at the hands of plantation foreman Raymond Cobb (Jackie Earle Haley), Nat feels a pain in his heart.
Ironically, Nat finds justification for revolt in the Bible he once used to preach the gospel of black compliance: “I’ve been following the Lord a long time,” Nat tells his flock. “I’m going back through his words with new eyes. For every verse they use to support our bondage, there’s another demanding our freedom” Parker does not go soft on the carnage. He wants to rub it our faces the way Nat did. Many other films have taken on the blight of slavery; most recent are the reflective agony of Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave and the surreal explosion of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. But Parker does his best to mirror history, as people are killed “for no reason at all but being black,” a statement that resonates across today’s headlines and gives Parker’s landmark film the heat of a history that’s still being written.