‘The Birth of a Nation’ leaves viewers sickened but impressed

October 23, 2016 — by Chelsea Leung and Alexandra Li

Two Saratoga students give their personal thoughts on a recent film called 'The Birth of a Nation'.

As we walked into the movie theater with tickets in hand, we were expecting “The Birth of a Nation,” which was released on Oct. 7, to be nothing less than spectacular. Just from readings in school, the history behind Nathaniel Turner and the 1831 American slave rebellion he led already seemed fascinating, and a film putting all of these words into action had to beat a high standard.

We found the title choice of Nate Parker, who directed, produced and portrayed Turner in the movie, intriguing, as it shares the name of a 1915 film that villainized African Americans and was used as a method of recruitment by the Ku Klux Klan. According to the International Business Times, Parker intentionally chose this title before he started writing the script to reclaim the title and give it a new meaning.

We both approved of his desire to redefine the phrase “The Birth of a Nation,” especially since the Ku Klux Klan committed horrific crimes against African Americans.

However, the film struggled to succeed since its first premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25 because of a 1999 case against Parker surrounding the rape of a classmate at Pennsylvania State. Parker was acquitted, as he maintained that it was consensual, but the classmate committed suicide 12 years after. When Deadline Hollywood brought this to light in August, many boycotted the film in protest.

Although we also did not want to support the film of a potential rapist, we decided to watch the film anyway because it portrays an important part of American history.

The film claimed to be based on the true story, but because much of history is uncertain, Parker created many of his own details to make strengthen the piece.

For example, in the movie, one of Turner’s motives for stirring up the rebellion stemmed from the brutal rape of his wife, who was assaulted by a group of white slaves catchers, although this incident was never mentioned in historical accounts. We believe that this scene was added to emphasize the cruelty of slave-catchers, especially how often the slave catchers attacked slaves ruthlessly and without proof of the slaves’ wrongdoings. Seeing this barbaric cruelty demonstrated the lack of humanity among not only the slave catchers but everyone involved with the slave trade.

While visiting other plantations to preach to fellow slaves, Turner witnesses their horrifying treatment, such as when one slave’s teeth are knocked out with a hammer in order to be force-fed through a bloody funnel.

At another house, the front door opens and a happy young white girl skips while pulling along a slave girl with a rope-like leash around her neck like an animal. We found these scenes especially powerful. They show how such cruel a treatment of slaves was ingrained in the culture.

As the movie progressed, the revolting scenes made it apparent why the film received an R-rating. They all showcased extreme and gruesome bloodshed, including a slave decapitating a slave owner and displaying the fresh head to the other slaves.

Although the blood made us rather uncomfortable, we realized that without these scenes, the movie would only be a sugar-coated version of the reality that the slaves were forced to endure.

Throughout the two hours, Parker successfully builds a powerful and inspiring message for viewers that even with its overdramatized fighting and historical inaccuracy, makes “The Birth of Nation” a movie worth watching.