If you know me, my first polemic against anti-Jim Crow / slavery movies started somewhere around the time of the release of the movie “Red Tails“. Apres, came “12 Years A Slave.”
My remonstrance was that films like those, in addition to already having been made (in the case of Red Tails) and the story line being protracted and unoriginal, the plot to these particular movies only instills in Black Americans that “White American people DO NOT LIKE YOU, think you are unintelligent; you somehow have to break through their condescension, usually by way of the “Great White Hope” who gets his brothers to deign and allow you to prove your self-worth, be given justice – OR NOT!
Along comes The Birth of a Nation. 1. Written by a Black American Man, 2. Directed by a Black American man, 3. Starring a Black American man, NATE PARKER; the handsome young man whose first claim to fame (as I came to know him) was starring alongside Denzel Washington in “The Great Debaters“. He also had a part alongside Queen Latifah (or maybe I should start calling her Dana Owens now, for she seized to be The Queen Lah long ago) and Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson, Dakota Fanning and Sophi Okonedo in “Secret Life of Bees“. I believe (because I’ll never watch it) he had a part in “Red Tails” as well.
The Birth of a Nation: Slave / Jim Crow movie? YES! Horrific scenes and characters that every, so-called, great slave movie cannot do without, including the amiable and unctuous slave master? YES!
Where does the difference come in with The Birth of a Nation? Why am I, the anti-slave / Jim Crow / Kill-A-N*gg* movie machine, touting this film?
The film is an artfully mastered, bitter sweet build to a climax, which does not include the White American people assuaging their brethren to free themselves of their malignancy. Each step and passing phase causing the main character to amble toward apostasy, is palpable to the viewer; in particular an incident, easily removed from the eyes but immutable from the mind, taken in by the character Nat before his final sermon, at which point tears stream from his eyes as his words are surreptitously spoken past the slave masters and poignantly into the hearts of the slaves. His sermons and prayers then turn from repent, respect, this side’ll be over soon, heaven last always; to clandestine words of, your master will burn in hell, the first shall be last and the last shall be first and the meek shall inherit the earth. Then the INCIDENTS and the culmination of him praying over his grandmother, wrapped in cerement before her interment, pushes him to all out, no turning back, VIRULENCE!
When Nat Turner surrenders, (in the movie version), he’s not hoodwinked by any legerdemain of a White American promising him mercy, forgiveness and a place in heaven after penitence in the crucible. Nat gives himself mercy and clemency and takes his life into his own hands without fear and with dignity.
When asked, “do you got any last words to say to these folks?” Instead of his staid reply, “I’m ready”, I wish, someway without despoiling the integrity of the period piece and artistry of the film, a slow motion shot could have panned across Nat’s eyes and in came a portion of the intro to Ice Cubes classic debut album, “Amerikkkaz Most Wanted” released in 1990, where the jailers come to get Cube and walk him to the denouement of his death row sentence and they ask, “you got any last words?” If Nat would have mouthed in Ice Cube’s voice, when Cube says, “Yeah, I got some last words …… FUCK ALL YALL!!!!
The disappointing part, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nominations / Awards, better known as The Oscars??? Will they recognize the brilliance of Nate Parker’s transformation of character throughout the movie. Will they see the ineluctable moment in the film which shift his thoughts and the way in which he then went about his ecumenical duties; the build to final climax was nothing short of amazing.
We all (including The Academy) could recognize The Remnant as a great movie and Leonardo Dicaprio‘s performance in it as brilliant. But will we all (including The Academy) be able to feel the nettlesome emotions emitted by Nate Parker in character as Nat Turner, at a plantation he’s to preach at, as he witnesses a wicked scene of a slave locked in a hovel sitting in feces, being forced fed. Will we all (including The Academy) recognize the protean nuances of venerability in the character leading to the climax. Will we all (including The Academy) be able to feel a Black American man’s pain when he realizes the word of God is being used against him and his people to keep them docile; that an act of God ultimately leads to his flogging.
I hope that Nate Parker already realizes that with this film, The Birth of a Nation, HE HAS WON, more than any award: NAACP IMAGE AWARD, SAG AWARD or OSCAR, can ever bestow upon him and/or the film. But, If we all (including The Academy) want to even attempt to make moribund the term, “White Privilege”, particularly in Hollywood, The Birth of a Nation will receive nominations and DARE I SAY, NATE PARKER WILL WIN THE OSCAR FOR BEST ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE!