The Birth of a Nation | Flawed biopic turns rebel slave Nat Turner into a saintly martyr

The Birth of a Nation Nate Parker

The Birth of a Nation Nate Parker Nat Turner

Nat Turner, preacher turned rebel

In the era of Black Lives Matter, an epic movie about Nat Turner, the renegade slave-preacher who led a bloody revolt in 1831 Virginia, couldn’t be timelier or more provocative. Yet writer, director and star Nate Parker blows the opportunity with his self-indulgent, one-dimensional, cliché-ridden biopic, The Birth of a Nation.

For all the film’s flaws, its depiction of the monstrous crimes of slavery in the antebellum South can’t help but pack a punch. But when it comes to the uprising, Parker distorts history, concealing the inconvenient truth that most of its victims were women and children. Which makes his attempts to present Turner as a mix of heroic avenger and saintly martyr – complete with an angelic vision when he goes to the gallows – ring somewhat hollow. A more honestly nuanced portrait would have been more powerful, and much more effective.

Certificate 15. Runtime 120 mins. Director Nate Parker

The Birth of a Nation is available on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download from Twentieth Century Fox.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.