The 2016 Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) opened yesterday with Nate Parker’s #TheBirthOfANation; the 2016 winner of the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance. An emotional roller coaster of a film, The Birth of a Nation is an adaptation of the true story of Nat Turner, an enslaved man in the United States, who led a slave rebellion in Southampton County Virginia as early as 1831, 30 years before the American Civil War against slavery.
Narrated mainly from the perspective of the slaves, The Birth of a Nation details the story from Nat’s childhood, how he was ‘anointed’ as a boy destined for great things, his ‘special gift’ of being able to read and how this ‘special gift’ was only worthy enough for him to read the Bible – other books apparently were too complicated for his Negro mind and were for white folks only.
More importantly though, The Birth of a Nation is a story of being pushed to the wall and seeing no option but to push back; of experiencing inhumane conditions over and over and deciding enough.
It is a lesson on how depraved souls have used the word of God to perpetrate evil in past times – which we’ve seen happen even in today’s world. It is a film that shows how a single spark in a small town, was able to ignite the fire of rebellion against injustice in an entire nation; a reminder to all everywhere that a lot has gone into getting us where we are today with respect to interactions between races around the world.
Delivered on the altar of carefully detailed cinematography, intricate acting performances and a soundtrack that immerses the audience, The Birth of a Nation is not ‘just another slave movie’. It is a reminder of human nature, human interactions and how societal norms and acceptances tend to over ride basic human consciousness in the world.
While watching, one of the most significant internal turmoils I felt on screen was that of Samuel Turner, a man who grew up playing with Nat Turner and who through no specific actions or qualifications inherited a bunch of people as slaves. Here was a man who was somewhat kind, whose conscience was not totally in the gutters, who just had to behave in the way of the times. It was evident that he struggled with this a lot, but was a very weak man, which made his inevitable fate so painful to bear.
‘Wow! this movie is going to win big at the Oscars next year’, was the sentiment of a filmmaker next to me. It hurt me to turn to her and say, ‘It may not even get nominated’ – this is because controversy has followed the movie for most of 2016, causing it not to perform as well as projected in the Cinemas. While I will not speak to the controversy currently in the life of Nate Parker, I would still commend him on a movie well made, on a story well told, on his acting that pulled from the soul and on his commitment to bringing Nat Turner to the big screen.
The Birth of a Nation features superb performances from so many talented actors, including Aunjanue Ellis, Esther Scott, Aja Naomi King, Penelope Ann Miller, Gabrielle Union, Armie Hammer, Colman Domingo and our very own Naija Brother Chike Okonkwo who was at the Premier yesterday. These performances alone make The Birth of a Nation a must watch when it hits cinemas on November 18, 2016. So storm the cinemas, make it a date with your friends then come back to tell us what you thought in the comments.