ABOVE PHOTO: Director/Producer/Writer Nate Parker on the set of “The Birth of a Nation.”. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved)
“The Birth of a Nation” Reveals unsettling truths and the extraordinary exploits of an ordinary man
By Kharisma McIllwaine
Emotions were at an all time high, lumps refused to settle, and feelings were difficult to describe during the screening of ‘The Birth of a Nation.’ It wasn’t just the images of violence, or the irrational rhetoric wrought with distain for Black people; it was the audacity of human ownership and the ever present reminder that for centuries this behavior in America was normal. People born with dark skin were deprived of all dignity, stripped of their honor, snatched from their families, raped and ravaged, physically, beaten, tortured, and killed on a whim.
The blood from their bodies stained the earth, nooses adorned their necks as their Black flesh dangled from trees and served as entertainment. Why? Because our bodies were deemed worthless, a means to an end, and the source for the continuation of a lifestyle… a lifestyle whites felt they deserved at our expense. The threat of free labor ending lingered. The gaul of human chattel challenging their inequality of life stood front and center as the driving force and justification for unbearable torment and indescribable anguish.
Writer, director, and producer Nate Parker captured the essence of this turmoil.
The story of Nat Turner began with an ancestral ceremony crowning him a leader. Turner’s affinity for reading, set him apart from the masses for a time. Years after semi-special treatment, Turner’s blackness forces him back to the world of blood, sweat, and endless labor in the field. His love for God and gift for preaching was used as a weapon against him and his people. He was forced to preach submission, obedience, and gratitude to “unruly” slaves who began resisting the inhumanity and cruelty that their masters offered as sadistic gifts.
After years of preaching scripture to his people while their constant brutalization weighed heavily, Turner has an epiphany. A series of prophetic dreams and signs eventually lead Turner to revolt. Over 60 white men, women, and children were slaughtered during Turner’s revolt. He was eventually captured, hung, then flayed, dismembered, and parts of his remains were kept as momentums.
There were very few surprises in the storyline of ‘The Birth of a Nation’ given the familiarity of Nat Turner’s infamous slave revolt. The emotions stirred after digesting this story on the big screen however, came as somewhat of a shock. In the wake of a so called “post-racial” America, police are murdering Black men, women and children at an alarming rate.
These atrocities, even with video evidence, have garnered no more justice than that given to those enslaved centuries ago. Celebrities like Colin Kaepernick who are brave enough to speak out are treated with the same disdain as the enslaved daring to dream of a life outside of chains. The birth, infancy, and current state of our nation continues to be one that needs tremendous work.
‘The Birth of A Nation’ serves as jolting evidence that the conversation about how Black people were and are treated in this country is desperately needed. The prejudice some people felt at that time has survived. The children and grandchildren who watched the massacres of Black bodies for sport, passed on their learned hatred from one generation to the next. Dispelling that conditioning and traditions of hatred is the work we as Americans need to do.
‘The Birth of A Nation’ is a film every American should see. Hopefully it will be the catalyst for change so that history will not repeat itself in the next 185 years. ‘The Birth of a Nation’ opens in theaters nationwide October 7th.
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