Monday, March 4, 2024

Featured: The Birth of a Nation is flawed but important viewing

Film is the one art form that can bring the world together. It is the only art form that is both visual and auditorial which causes us as an audience to be completely immersed into our viewing experience. This is referred to as the “willing suspension of disbelief.” We are willing ourselves to watch films, but we also understand that what is happening on screen is not real, it’s been crafted and perfected by a group of talented artists. And the filmmakers that we go back to time and time again are the filmmakers who not only suspense or disbelief, but also relay a hidden message. They hid something in the subtext of the film, forcing us to analyze it and receive a deeper understanding of what is being shown on screen. What is unfortunate about this, is time and time again we receive films with strong emotional subtext, however the execution of the film itself ruins the delivery of the message. And Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation is a film with a powerful and heartfelt message, but the execution of the film ruins the delivery.

Racism has been around forever. And it has been extremely poignant especially in today’s society with a load of horrific and terrible events happening left and right. Another thing film is used for is to reflect the reality that we live in today. So filmmakers capitalize on these tragedies, forcing us as humans to watch these awful things unfold and understand that we need to change our ways. And The Birth of a Nation holds all of the power to change the conversation about racism in America. It holds so much emotion, and power in the subtext that it could force us as a country to view everything that has been happening recently and change our ways. Unfortunately, it does not do this.

Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation is actually a remake, with the premise and concept of the film flipped on it’s head. The original Birth of a Nation is one of the first feature films in existence. It’s directed by D.W. Griffith and it was released in 1915, however instead of the film being about a slave revolution, it’s about the rise and growth of the KKK. The 1915 film is awful. Including it’s shameful and horrendous glorification of the KKK, the film is also incredibly poorly made. Now, we may be able to tribute that to the times but that is no excuse.
Several films were released in the early 1900’s that are masterpieces. They may be silent and they may be slow, but as far as a craft they execute the early idea of filmmaking seamlessly. So to clear the air before I make my statements about Parker’s film, the original film is by no means
a good film. Now, onto Parker’s.

Nate Parker set a record with this film, making it the most expensive film ever purchased at the Sundance Film Festival. It received a glorious standing ovation and incredible praise from the critics. Yet, for some reason on it’s release to the general public other critics began to take a closer look at the film. The critics seeing it on wide spread release went it with a bit more open mind, clearing all preconceived notions of what they had heard at Sundance. One of the best headlines I saw for the film was “Birth of a Flop.” Which is disappointing considering how well the film was originally received. I myself was even immensely excited to watch the film. A movie that was originally about the KKK flipped on it’s head with breathtaking cinematography?! Sign me up! Unfortunately, like many other critics I myself was also
disappointed after the treacherous hour and fifty minute runtime.

But, after further consideration of the film I would like to start off with a positive note about the film. The cinematography is breathtaking. It does take advantage of that “New Academy” look where the general feel and look of the film appears to have a middle balance between grays and blues. Forcing these harsher and more saturated reds and oranges to pop on screen. The film is masterful at mixing colors, and especially the composition of the shots. Contrasting incredibly wide shots, with immensely extreme close ups. The film is a pure joy to watch visually, and if the biggest selling point on films for you is the purely visual then you will thoroughly enjoy this film. However, if you’re a fan of story and character like myself this film may leave a bad taste in your mouth.

First of all, this movie has every single ingredient to create a masterful piece of work that could change not only the course of how films are perceived by the general audience, but also change the course of the topic of racism. The film has a copious amount of passion, the tragedies and heartbreak literally ooze off of the screen bringing you almost to tears. The key word there being almost. Though the film has passion, it lacks in character choices and story. First of all, the film show us events and specific moments in Nat Turner’s life. Which is powerful in itself, but
this does not get you off the hook for making sure that your audience cares about your character. There still should be something that forces me as an audience member to connect with your protagonist. Be it a character trait they have, just something that audience members can relate to. And besides the fact that these things that have happened are horrible, isn’t enough for me to care about what’s going on. Don’t get me wrong, there are several moments in the film where I just cringed and held my hand over my mouth because I felt so shameful and horrified. But as the film goes on and on, this feeling slowly dwindles away.

The sole problem I think for this is the runtime. If the film had ended probably around 30-40 minutes earlier, using all of the information that the film brings and condensing them into a shorter runtime, it could have been much more powerful. The story just lacks in character development and arch, and has a few flaws in the screenplay.

I don’t want this to be misconceived. I am fully aware that these awful things have happened and I absolutely respect what Nate Parker is trying to do. It is insanely powerful and holds every single aspect to force America to watch this film. But the film falls flat in terms of story and character which is what film is all about and I cannot praise this film to be a masterpiece because of this. The film is great, and has a lot of strong elements, however it just falls a bit short and that forces it to hold a bit less of power at least to me. Then again, film is all about perspective and I don’t find this film distasteful or ignorant in anyway. If anything, it is the absolutely opposite and I adore the message of the film. I just cannot get behind the masterpiece aspect. The film is flawed, but still an important viewing.

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