Civil War Era Biopic
With every news report of an African American getting shot to death by a police officer, with every Facebook post sharing an article surrounding “Black Lives Matter,” with every spark of controversy over the lack of Oscar nominees of color, we gradually get closer and closer to living back in the times of slavery. Hence it is in appropriate timing for this account of revolutionary Black priest Nat Turner to make the light of day, under the title of the most famous anti-Black propaganda film in history, The Birth of a Nation.
What amazes me is how this early addition to the 2016/2017 Oscar race stands at a 4.9 rating on IMDb, and yet a 78% on RottenTomatoes. Does it show how grand it is as a biopic, or how harmful it is to America’s pride? Well one thing’s for sure, it’s appropriately violent for its R-rating and chocked full of effectively gruesome imagery that makes every whipping and beating painful to watch. It even goes as far as showing hopeless slaves getting auctioned off to White buyers as if they were property. These are the types of things that just make you want to go “grr…” out of self-loathing.
Those little moments make the experience worth it, but what doesn’t make it worth it, and what supposedly causes the most scathing responses towards Producer/Director/Writer/Lead Actor Nate Parker to surface, is its loyalty to history.
The Birth of a Nation claims to be based on a true story, but this article by The Nation proves how the story is anything but true. Rather than feeling hopeful and redemptive, it instead becomes a beat-by-beat rip-off of Braveheart that justifies revenge as a path to God’s Promised Land.
There’s also little impact from the personal side of the story. Nat Turner’s wife in this movie, Cherry, played with an appropriate level of trauma by Aja Naomi King (How to Get Away with Murder), is treated more like a plot device than an actual human being, as her marriage to Nat is skimmed over in as little as thirty seconds. It’s not made any easier to take seriously when she makes appearances to her husband in visions that belong in a corny 1970’s music video.
Yet I wouldn’t say the bad parts outweigh the good. If you just forget the fact that this is not true to history, then it becomes a fairly inspiring account that empowers people of color. It’s done in a pretty typical fashion done better by 12 Years a Slave, but the love of ancestry, Holy Scripture, fulfillment of Matthew 20:16, and redemption are all there untainted.
On the plus side, the performances are quite stellar in and of themselves. I already praised Miss King, but Armie Hammer’s part as Turner’s slave owner gives an effectively believable performance that works perfectly off of Mark Boone Junior’s portrayal of the ruthless town reverend. Be sure to keep a keen eye out for them when the awards shows come around.
Much like any other revenge-story biopic you have seen, this one leads up to the Black priest rounding up all the slaves so that he can ignite a rebellion onto the Whites. Here is probably where most of the mixed responses have come from. One could argue that it is an uplifting display of Blacks finally getting the recognition they long deserved. Another could argue that it offensively paints Whites as the villains who caused all our world’s problems. I can’t answer this debate for sure, but showing more of these wars between races without any hope of harmony is doing more damage than benefit to our socially correct times.
So now, here is what I’m thinking: I won’t tell you whether or not you should see this movie. It’s all up to you whether The Birth of a Nation is a celebration or a disgrace. While it is a slap in the face to historical accuracy, it also celebrates Blackness through a finely acted ensemble. It may be offensive to Whites, but it also offers important biblical morals in fighting for a well-deserved freedom that will last onto eternity. Maybe time will tell whether if this helps restore peace or pushes it further into oblivion, but either way, The Birth of a Nation is what it is.
It’s practically become a daily occurrence now that we hear about some story of racial hatred, and here in America it’s almost always between Blacks and Whites. But it’s hard to blame people for it, the history between Blacks and Whites has been filled with guilt. Even beyond these two, there have been countless racial conflicts that have hurt their relations even today: Germans and Jews, Chinese and Japanese, Northern Vietnamese and Southern Vietnamese, it goes on and on. Hence, we today are fighting for racial equality in the media to make up for our ugly history, which is one of the more prominent reasons why Obama won the 2008 election.
If you ask me, we should not be worked up by this. Everybody looks different on the outside, but it has no affect as to who they are on the inside. Instead, we should be seeking diversity in something that needs far more attention: mental disorders.
With movies about racial power, it has practically become its own genre at this point. But movies about autism power or Down Syndrome power? Practically nonexistent. While we can go ahead and criticize the wrongs we did in history to those different externally, it’s more important that we acknowledge those who actually are different internally from the majority and are not receiving enough attention.
I will admit that we have made spectacular strides in the last century in understanding the condition of mental disorders and doing something about it. It’s not like how it was in the 1970s when anyone on the spectrum was declared insane and locked in an asylum. Today we have made significant progress in giving those with mental disorders a place and a purpose. But there’s still work that needs to be done!
Six-Word Lessons for Autism Friendly Workplaces, Lesson #4: Autism Employment is Lowest Among Disabilities.
My mom’s book about autism in the workplace gives advice for employers and jobseekers about how to raise that employment rate. I know of several people with autism or Down Syndrome who have jobs as small as cleaning windows at restaurants to as big as leading an entire educational program at a college. But there are also plenty of others I know who are struggling to find their way. They are still living with their parents, taking extra classes just to pass the time.
I myself am not working the ideal type of job either. Although I am making ends meet fairly well in my work now, I still have current plans on someday finding a higher-paying full time job. I would say that along with myself, there are countless others with autism, Asperger’s, or Down Syndrome who companies should give more attention to, as the numbers of people born with ASD are rising.
Six-Word Lessons for Dads with Autistic Kids, Lesson #5: ASDs Account for 2% of Births.
From what I can tell, when people hear the word, “diversity,” often the first thing to come to mind is people of color. Not just people of color, but primarily African Americans. I say that diversity needs to come less from what people are on the outside, but from who people are on the inside. That is where one’s talent comes from, and that is what will really contribute to the success of a company.
That is why I don’t care so much about #BlackLivesMatter or #OscarsSoWhite, because the color of someone’s skin has nothing to do with what they’re good at.
But on the other hand, if there is a nonverbal savant whose most useful skill is organizing shelves, then he can help any Costco become neater, and more easily navigable to ensure more satisfied customers, and greater sales.
- With whatever skill your autistic son or daughter is the best at, focus on that. With every job interview, with every volunteer task, make that skill the focus; I guarantee that there is some well-established business that is looking for that very skill.
- Stop the mistreatment of people with autism, Asperger’s, or Down Syndrome. Just as you wouldn’t demean a person of color, watch how you are treating anybody with a disability. They are more capable than you realize.
- Focus on providing opportunities for those with mental disorders, and keep balanced in how you listen to media reports regarding black power and racial harmony. Don’t automatically believe social media hashtag trends.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see reviewed, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Alexander, Leslie M. ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Is an Epic Fail. The Nation. LLC, 6 Oct 2016. Web. <https://www.thenation.com/article/the-birth-of-a-nation-is-an-epic-fail/>.
The Birth of a Nation. Fox Searchlight. Web. <http://www.foxsearchlight.com/thebirthofanation/>.
Goldberg, Matt. ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Review: God’s Wrath Against Slavery. Digital image. Collider. Complex Media Inc., 6 Oct 2016. Web. <http://collider.com/the-birth-of-a-nation-review-nate-parker/>.