The Birth of a Nation
NAT Turner is a folk hero, a man who decided he could no longer take the violent injustice of the slave era and rose in righteous fury to strike bloody revenge against those who had done so much evil.
In 1831, he led a slave rebellion that lasted 48 hours and led to the killing of 60 people who had spent their lives torturing, murdering, abusing others.
In Nate Parker's biopic we are told Turner’s story in graphic, horrendous detail. Turner (Nate Parker, writing, directing and in the lead role), had become a preacher as he had learnt to read at an early age. When his owner Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer) needed to earn more income, he hired Turner to other plantations to speak the word of God to other slaves – in the hope that he would help quell dissent.
But Turner had seen too much, seen too many horrible atrocities, and he read the Bible and took inspiration. He felt morally obliged not to stand aside – and hoped that if slaves saw him lead an armed uprising, soon they would follow.
The story has, according to its director, been confined mainly to folktales, documentaries and a few mentions in history books – but Turner deserves much more than this.
With some truly shocking portrayals of the horrors of the period, this is rightfully hard to watch, and will once again remind us of the extraordinary crime upon which the modern USA is built.
Nat’s reaction to the slavery system has been considered by historians as a key step on the road to the Civil War, an act that led to brutal reprisals from fearful slave owners, but also raised issues over the morality – and ultimately the sustainability – of an economic system that stole the freedom of fellow humans. While the script and story arc occasionally wobble – key moments are hammy – this is an important monument to remind us of man’s inhumanity to fellow man, something that could not be more important in the current political atmosphere in Western democracies.