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Film / The Birth of a Nation (2016)

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The Birth of a Nation is a 2016 historical drama written, directed by, and starring Nate Parker. It is not a remake of the 1915 film of the same name, but the title is deliberately used in contrast with that film. The film also stars Armie Hammer, Aunjanue Ellis, Gabrielle Union, Penelope Ann Miller, and Jackie Earle Haley.

The film is a depiction of the life of Nat Turner (Parker), a slave and preacher in antebellum Virginia whose owner takes advantage of his gift for speaking and knowledge of The Bible by renting him out to nearby plantations to give speeches intended to subdue unruly slaves. In the process, however, Turner is shaken and moved by the atrocities he both sees and is victim to, eventually inspiring him to lead an armed revolt against the local slaveowners in an attempt to lead his people to freedom.

The independently-produced film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and was bought for distribution by Fox Searchlight for a record-breaking $17.5 million.

The film was given a general release on October 7, 2016. The trailer can be seen here.

Compare The Confessions of Nat Turner, a 1967 novel.


  • Artistic License – History:
    • Nat is shown growing up alongside Samuel Turner, who eventually becomes his owner. When the rebellion breaks out, Nat kills Samuel. The real Nat Turner was sold several times in his lifetime, and at the time of the rebellion, his owner was a man named Joseph Travis. Furthermore, it wasn't Nat who killed Travis but one of his followers.
    • In the film, the rape of Nat Turner's wife is one of the motivations for his rebellion. There is no record of this ever happening.
  • Badass Preacher: Nat Turner himself. Ironic as he is encouraged by the white slave owners to preach in order to pacify the local slaves, but his reading of the Bible leads him to realize how much they cherry pick in order to justify slavery. From then on he starts quoting different verses as a call to action and revolution, and ultimately leads his followers in armed combat.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Excusing the obvious pun, the film is certainly not morally complex in regards to Nat's actions and everyone is either strictly good or bad, with Samuel and his father being more complicated than others. This isn't uncommon when you're killing slave owners.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Samuel is a slaveowner and benefits from exploiting his slaves, including the money he makes from taking Nat on tour preaching obedience to other masters' slaves, but one of these other masters deprives and tortures his slaves so badly that it makes Samuel sick to his stomach.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Nat goes to the gallows fully resolved to die for the cause he believed in, and maintains his composure to the very end.
  • Females Are More Innocent: Prominent male members of slave-owning families are uniformly Hate Sinks or prone to Slowly Slipping Into Evil, while the three notable female ones (Samuel's mother and sister, and a woman Nat speaks to during a visit to town) tend to get Pet the Dog and Everyone Has Standards moments. That being said, several unnamed white women are shown baying for Nat's blood after his failed rebellion.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The failure of Nat's uprising is already written in history.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The real Nat Turner and his followers killed children, including an infant in its crib. This is not shown in the film. It is only alluded to in a quote to 1 Samuel 15:3 which Nat reads after the death of his grandmother: "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass". In addition, the film's Face Death with Dignity moment in which he willingly surrenders differs from reality where the real Nat Turner fled to the woods and was discovered later.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: More of an act of reclamation, really, but it's no accident that this movie about a slave rebellion has the same title as one of the most racist movies ever made.
  • Karma Houdini: Venal Sinister Minister Reverend Walthall and particularly cruel slave owners Earl Fowler and Joseph Randall all seem to come out of Nat's rebellion unharmed.
  • The Lancer: Hark to Nat Parker.
  • La Résistance: Nat organizes a group of slaves to take up arms against the plantation owners and the government which supports them.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: From Double Toasted:
    Korey Coleman: Alright, so y'all listen to that gospel music right there and hearing that soundtrack and y'all thinking "Oh this going to be inspirational. This going to be like Selma or something, you think you going to come out of there feeling like uplifted and everything." NO! HELL NO! Fuck that! Like my man Twinkie said it in Sausage Party!
    Twink: Once you see that shit, it'll fuck you up for life!
  • Rape as Drama:
    • Nat Turner's wife is raped as a way for the film to spur the rebellion. Historically, this never happened.
    • There's also the rape of Esther, one of Samuel Turner's slaves, whom Samuel gives over to his friend Joseph Randall
  • Rape Discretion Shot: Several rapes occur, but none are shown—the camera pans away as three men surround the terrified Cherry.
  • Rebel Leader: Nat Turner, who inspires his fellow slaves to rise up and leads them in armed rebellion.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: The community is understandably hostile toward a man with a history of pedophilia, but he does seem to be a genuine atoner and is the only white man in the movie to treat a black man as an equal, or even a superior, while requesting a baptism from Nat as part of his desire to become a better person.
  • Similarly Named Works: Invoked as a Take That! to The Birth of a Nation. In an interview with Filmmaker magazine, Parker said that "I've reclaimed this title and re-purposed it as a tool to challenge racism and white supremacy in America."
  • Slave Liberation: After killing the masters, Nat tells the other slaves that they are free and calls upon them to join his rebellion to win liberty for themselves and their descendants.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: Samuel inherits a slave plantation during his Used to Be a Sweet Kid phase and keeps the slaves in bondage as he grows up, but initially has elements of a Sympathetic Slave Owner. Then he takes money to have Nat preach cherry-picked Bible verses about obedience to slaves on cruelly-run plantations. He initially seems disturbed by what he sees but then continues doing business with those plantation owners and begins making Wants a Prize for Basic Decency comments about the privileges he gives his slaves. Then, he lets a guest rape one of his slaves while her husband watches helplessly. He then goes on to have Nat whipped within an inch of his life for giving him a What the Hell, Hero? over his hypocrisy. By the final act, the only remotely sympathetic aspect of Samuel's current personality is that his constant drinking may signify remorse for his misdeeds.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: In contrast to the original Birth of a Nation, which depicted antebellum slavery as benign and Reconstruction as a heroic struggle by the Ku Klux Klan to take back their society from wicked black people, this Birth of a Nation is about the evil of this slave society and the courage of those who revolted for their freedom.
  • Take That!: The title is one to the invokedSimilarly Named Work The Birth of a Nation.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Three slave rebels are shown alive in the aftermath of a cannon being shot at the armory, but one of them promptly vanishes as Nat comforts a dying Hark and then escapes a few seconds later.