Die a hero , or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.
Political revolution does not occur in a vacuum. If a revolution is to be had, it must overturn everything; and if our ideas of art are upended, society as a whole cannot too far behind.
We’ve never had a hero like Nat Turner. I immediately think of Paul in the Bible’s Book of Acts– how he went from persecuting Christians to having had the most dramatic conversion in his faith. A hero among Pharisees turned enemy, seemingly overnight. Die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become a villain. Nat Turner was a preacher. He spends a good portion of this film’s trailer preaching slaves into submission to their masters, with the promise of Heaven bouncing before them like a carrot on a string… that is until he can do so no longer. Nat’s message turns from one of compliance to one of freedom, resistance and, eventually, uprising. A hero among slave owners turned threatening enemy. Die a hero, or…
Get into the trailer. Haunting, to say the least: it’s almost an entire film itself, opening with Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” and just as eerie images of slavery. A Black child being pulled about with a noose on her neck. A nearly teary-eyed Nat Turner pedaling slavery as God’s will. His guilt and conviction is evident ...or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.
While Nat Turner’s story is a new one for many, Nate Parker‘s probably isn’t. Having paved the way with films like The Great Debaters and Pride, The Birth of a Nation comes as a film one might long for their favorite Black actor to simply be a part of, let alone write and direct. Having wanted to make the film for years, Nate finally came up on funding and the other moving parts to actually make it happen in 2014. With himself cast as Nat Turner, the film also features Gabrielle Union and How to Get Away with Murder‘s Aja Naomi King.
The icing on the cake, however, is its name, shared with a 1915 silent film originally called The Clansmen (go figure) that featured white people in blackface and Black people portrayed as savage neanderthals. What the film did for KKK resurgence was epic; that particular The Birth of a Nation did for the KKK what Project X did for college students everywhere, or what A Different World did for graduating high school students choosing schools. It was propaganda, inspiring a newly bolstered and aggressively psuedo-heroic participation in the Klan. So Nate Parker gave his film– his literate slave preacher turned rebellious revolutionary leader film– that same name. Well played, Mr. Parker, well played.
With this year’s Sundance Film Festival goers still singing its praises, and now greenlit by Fox Searchlight Pictures, you’ll be able to catch the convicting and arresting The Birth of a Nation in all of its renegade glory in theaters on October 7, 2016.