With his love and fervor for the Bible, slave owners use him to keep their slaves in line. His preaching will keep the uneducated black slaves docile. Nat does this and is the right-hand man for his master while he witness the physical torture of his people. From whipping to mutilation to rape.
Parker used a musical trope that was right out of 1930s & 40s Hollywood movies. In some of those old films it wasn't enough to just to show that the sad butler, maid or field hand was black....they had to score the minority's appearance with "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" as background music to give you a musical clue that the person was black.
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" swells up as we get a close-up of Nat Turner picking cotton. And there was an odd line in a scene with a group of slaves in rebellion mode. They're in a field. It's late afternoon. Nat looks at the sky and asks "What time is it?" Another male slave responds, "About 5:30. 5:35."
"5:35"? They're all uneducated slaves in the woods in the early 1830s. Not guys working at Starbucks.
One strong, important scene could have had more strength, but it would've required Parker to take the camera off his face. You can tell he was influenced by directors Steven Spielberg and Mel "BRAVEHEART" Gibson. A slave woman Nat Turner loves is beaten by white men. The sight of her beaten face resembles photos of the late teenager Emmett Till, the victim of a racist murder in the 1950s. His mutilation and murder became a national news story and the subject of two documentaries. The sight of her face is the kind of viciousness towards the innocent that we needed to see. Parker should have shared the spotlight in that scene. In a way, that's symbolic of the director's work with black women in THE BIRTH OF A NATION. He keeps the attention on himself and doesn't elevate them with a well-written and directed role. Here, he should've been inspired by actress/director Barbra Streisand. She will be the star of a film like THE PRINCE OF TIDES and make herself look fabulous in close-ups. She also shares the spotlight and, as a director, makes her fellow actors stand out. She directed co-stars Nick Nolte, Kate Nelligan, Amy Irving and Lauren Bacall to Oscar nominations.
There are times when you feel like you seen some of this film already. Like in 12 YEARS A SLAVE, there's the kind slave and the alcoholic master who's conflicted over acting with humanity or fulfilling his expectations as a slave owner and treating black people like animals. Then there are smaller scenes that have big impact. For instance, a portly male slave with only one arm is being sold for breeding purposes.
Finally, it was hard to watch Nate Parker and not think of the controversy surrounding him and a 1999 college rape trial in which he was accused and acquitted. The story of this 1999 rape trial surfaced when THE BIRTH OF A NATION was generating Oscar buzz and was on the verge of opening nationwide. The filmmaker proclaims his innocence. While being interviewed on CBS's 60 MINUTES and ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA, he was given opportunities to apologize and, perhaps, decrease the controversy. He held to the acquittal and refused to apologize for anything.
Parker learned that it's still a different America for him, apparently. When CAFE SOCIETY came out this year, did any columnist or on-air reporter ask if Woody Allen ever apologized to Mia Farrow?
If I interviewed Parker, I would not ask him about that rape trial and his acquittal. I'm sure I wouldn't get anything new. He's given the same answers worded in different ways. But a Twitter buddy forwarded me an article in which he said that he'd never play a gay character. I'd ask about that.
In an Ebony Magazine interview in 2014, it was reported that Parker said he will never play a gay character in an effort to "preserve the black man" adding that Hollywood offers black men roles that consist of "men with questionable sexuality." Does that mean actor Nate Parker would reject good biopic screenplays about Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin (the architect of Dr. Martin Luther King's historic March on Washington), poet Langston Hughes or novelist/activist James Baldwin? Paker's statements were made when he was promoting his performance in the 2014 film, BEYOND THE LIGHTS. At no time during the promotion of that well-received film did the news of the controversial 1999 rape trial involving Nate Parker surface.
THE BIRTH OF A NATION. Worth seeing for its historical content. Here's a trailer.