The Birth of a Nation (2016) review

Updated on October 7, 2016
One of the one-sheet theatrical posters for "The Birth of a Nation."
One of the one-sheet theatrical posters for "The Birth of a Nation." | Source

Papa Shango Unchained

In 1831, in Southampton County, Virginia, Nat Turner was a slave who learned how to read and write, spoke The Lord’s gospel after attaching himself to The Bible, and became the leader of a violent slave rebellion that claimed the lives of 55 to 65 people. While the rebellion only lasted a handful of days, it also had the most fatalities of any slave uprising in the Southern United States. After Turner was hanged following two months in hiding, African American slaves were punished and/or executed based solely on their occupation and skin color whether they were thought to be involved with the rebellion or not.

Nate Parker as Nat Turner in "The Birth of a Nation."
Nate Parker as Nat Turner in "The Birth of a Nation." | Source

The Birth of a Nation is based on not only the revolution that Nat Turner would eventually lead, but also his life leading up to that point. The period drama is the directorial debut for actor Nate Parker (Red Tails, Non-Stop), who also co-produced and co-wrote the film while starring as Turner himself.

Jackie Earle Haley as Raymond Cobb in "The Birth of a Nation."
Jackie Earle Haley as Raymond Cobb in "The Birth of a Nation." | Source

What’s unusual is that Turner’s on-screen life prior to his savage uprising is more interesting than his blood-soaked insurrection. The character seems to feel like he’s chosen right from the start as the unique birthmark on his chest is revealed to be that of a natural leader during a voodoo ritual. He barely squeaks by with his parents and grandmother living in a shack and doing slave labor just to survive. His life seems to turn around for the better once his owners realize he can read, but it’s a privilege that is soon revoked.

As an adult, Nat had already begun giving religious speeches and inspiring the slaves around him. His childhood friend Samuel Turner (played by Armie Hammer) is now his owner and takes Nat on the road to make money off his preaching in a struggle to stay profitable. Along the way a young, drug addicted slave girl named Cherry (Aja Naomi King) is bought by Samuel for $275 (after Nat practically begs for the transaction). She cleans herself up and eventually becomes Nat’s wife.

Nate Parker and Armie Hammer in "The Birth of a Nation."
Nate Parker and Armie Hammer in "The Birth of a Nation." | Source

Nate Parker is electrifying as Nat Turner. His emotional range is extraordinary while his passionate and wistful preaching triggers anger and sadness in himself in the heat of the moment. At the same time though, it seems as if Parker purposely hogs the spotlight without giving much of anyone else the opportunity to make an impact. While it’s a story revolving around the character Parker is portraying, you can’t help but feel like the rest of the cast is overshadowed. Nat’s mother is raped all for the sake of impressing Samuel’s guests. His parents are shoved aside as is his wife once she’s beaten and raped by the deranged plantation overseer Raymond Cobb (Jackie Earle Haley). While this all motivates Nat’s actions, you can’t help but desire something more from these characters since you don’t get to see much of how these terrible circumstances affected them afterwards.

Nate Parker as Nat Turner in "The Birth of a Nation."
Nate Parker as Nat Turner in "The Birth of a Nation." | Source

Once Nat Turner snaps, every inch of the film becomes drenched with blood. The Birth of a Nation suddenly takes a page out of Gangs of New York or the finale of Django Unchained and becomes this crimson stained revenge thriller. While it’s a sudden shift, it’s not totally unexpected and doesn’t ruin the film in the slightest. Seeing the cruel way slaves were treated in the 1800s has become the focal point of films like this and for good reason; it’s captivating in a heartbreaking kind of way since we all know that’s how it was back then. The mindset back then was, “Why treat property like human beings?” The Birth of a Nation loses its momentum once the rebellion occurs because everything seems to occur so quickly after that and you never once believe that he can actually pull off a successful pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Nate Parker as Nat Turner in "The Birth of a Nation."
Nate Parker as Nat Turner in "The Birth of a Nation." | Source

What hurts the film more than anything is that 12 Years a Slave succeeds where The Birth of a Nation doesn’t. 12 Years a Slave was the story of one man who was abducted into slavery and bounced around from plantation to plantation for 12 years with seemingly no hope of ever making it back home. While The Birth of a Nation revolves around Nate Parker, it seems as though he sets off on his path of righteousness in an effort to free all of his brothers and sisters. The issue is it feels like The Birth of a Nation doesn’t dig into your emotions as well or as often as 12 Years a Slave is able to. Nate Parker’s film strikes gold occasionally, but only gets the tip of what would’ve been a bigger sentimental payday.

Nate Parker as Nat Turner in "The Birth of a Nation."
Nate Parker as Nat Turner in "The Birth of a Nation." | Source

The Birth of a Nation is a solid first directorial effort from Nate Parker. The balancing of characters other than the lead needs work and the film lacks a distinct style despite having moments of haunting imagery like the gasp-inducing hanging tree sequence. The period drama is much better than the current abysmal rating it has on IMDb, but the presentation of Nat Turner’s story falters often enough to keep a good film from being a great and memorable cinematic experience.

3 stars for The Birth of a Nation (2016)


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)