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In the Age of Black Lives Matter, Timing Is Perfect For ‘The Birth of a Nation’

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Captivating. Exhilarating. Excellent. These are the adjectives I would use to describe Nate Parker’s “Birth of A Nation,” a movie that gives men and women a trip back in history to full-on witness the story of Nathaniel “Nat” Turner and his forever infamous 1831 slave revolt. Slave movies tend not to get as much attention with our generation, due to the tough times and tribulations that the black race is going through now. However, writer/director/star Parker’s “Birth of a Nation” is one worth watching.

It’s absorbing from the start of the film as people gather around a fire, whispering mysterious African chants. A young Nat is in the mix, next to the leader, shirtless with three vertical dotted birthmarks on his chest. Nat’s eyes look into the tribe leader’s as the aged man repeats three words: “Wisdom. Courage. Vision.” These three words will guide Nat through his entire life, and the same three words lead to the climax of the movie.

 “Birth of a Nation” is set in a really harsh and racially tense time in history. In this time, slang and demeaning language are common. Words like “n**ger” and “cracker” are heard in almost every scene, from both races. I wouldn’t expect it any other way, as the vernacular used in the scenes provides a certain authenticity that progresses the characters and the story, giving the film an “old-time” and “way-back” effect. Everything, down to the clothing, is tight and on-key. Whites wear more fashionable and clean clothes, while slaves wear rags, a statement that says: “We’re better than you.” This plays into Nat’s decision to revolt against the white race. As he sees how men and women of color are being mistreated and how his own master treats him, something clicks inside, giving Nat the willpower he needs to stand tall and fight back.

The symbolism in this movie is powerful; however, I’m haven’t yet been able to fully grasp what it all means to this day. Certain symbols such as the three vertical dots on Nat’s chest and blood-soaked corn husk  were perplexing to me; however, they’re also very interesting and get the viewer to think.

As great as “Birth of a Nation” truly is, there are certain scenes that are a lot to take in, especially ones that show the maltreatment of slaves. Certain gruesome scenes of hanging, torture and beatings justify the film’s R rating. I think Parker wanted the scenes to be that gruesome so viewers can understand how things were back then. Parker expertly balances some of these harsh topics with a decent amount of comic relief. However, the main point can’t be washed away: You aren’t safe if your skin contains melanin. This is the triggering factor for the slave revolt.

Scenes with black men and women being put down were especially hard for me to take as I am a young man of color. For people who are easily triggered by themes involving harsh treatment of black people, blood, and gore, please note this movie contains a lot of that. Not only this, but some scenes in the movie involve nudity and other adult themes and not safe for young children. Parental Advisory is necessary.

As for acting, the characters and back stories are phenomenal. The actors portray these men and women with great emotion. Every line, every movement and every action is perfect. This could truly be a break-out film for many of the little known actors in the movie. 

 In my opinion, there is not a better time to put this movie out, especially because of the constant persecution and killing of black men and women across the United States. Movements, including the well-known Black Lives Matter, have erupted worldwide in an attempt to put an end to the madness. Booker T. Washington once said, “If you break a man’s spirit, you do not have to show him to the back door. He will walk there himself.”

The main focus of the Black Lives Matter movement is to not let the black spirit be broken. Nate Parker recognizes this, and even with all the trouble and controversy his race is going through, he is still able to put out a brilliant piece of work. This film will give people insights into how times were back then, how Nat Turner’s death went down, and how it took one man who overcame distress to make a noble attempt at trying to “slay” his opponent.

Malcolm “Mack” Walker, 14, attends Westlake High School. He enjoys listening to music and playing basketball in his free time.

Related: For another view, check out Mikael’s review of “The Birth of a Nation.”

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