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The Birth of a Nation

Film pioneer D.W. Griffith’s THE BIRTH OF A NATION was the first feature-length film that had its own fully developed film language – a racist concoction. Director Nate Parker tells the story of the 1831 slave uprising led by Nat Turner anew ...


Nate Parker’s THE BIRTH OF A NATION was a clear Oscar contender after Sundance in 2016. Fox Searchlight bought the celebrated film for $17.5 million after Netflix offered 20 million. D.W. Griffith’s racist classic with the same name was considered to be the first film with its own fully developed film language and was celebrated for inventing the close-up though Griffith’s INTOLERANCE is shown in film schools more often because Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION is a racist celebration of the KKK. The desire to contrast this eyesore in film history by making an epic film from a black perspective was great and the moment for it seemed to have arrived after successes like DJANGO UNCHAINED and 12 YEARS A SLAVE and the “Oscars so white” debate about the lack of diversity in the US film business. A big US tour was planned in which Nate Parker was supposed to discuss the history of slavery and its relation to the US of today.

In August 2016 the bomb dropped: Nate Parker gave an interview in the most important US film magazine, Variety, where he confessed that he was charged with the rape of an 18 year old woman while he was in college. Parker admitted to having sex with the student back then but he says that it was consensual. The victim said she was unconscious. Parker was acquitted because witnesses testified that he had sex with the woman before. However, he was kicked off of the university wrestling team.

It’s impossible to watch Parker’s film in an impartial way after knowing this. But there was a reason for the enthusiasm at Sundance that had to do with the film itself divorced from the social discourses surrounding it. THE BIRTH OF A NATION tells the story of the 1831 slave uprising led by Nat Turner. The film begins with a dream sequence in which a younger Nat is told he will be a future leader and prophet because of the birthmark he has on his chest. This dream is also mentioned in “Confessions of Nat Turner,” a book written shortly after Turner’s execution by lawyer Thomas Ruffin Gray which published the statements the rebel made at his trial. The book’s authenticity is contested but it has been proven that Gray did have conversations with Turner. Nat Turner’s story is above all a story of religion, about the function of white Christian religion in slave owning society and moreover – the question of the function of religion in anticolonial rebellions as well as contemporary terrorism.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION points to the fact that the brutality of slavery also includes the control over black women but what set the uprising off was Nat Turner’s baptism by a white man. Despite THE BIRTH OF A NATION’s weaknesses, the reflections on how an imposed religion becomes an ideological framework that also determines and limits emancipatory desires is an important and brave contribution to the post-colonial debate. Unlike Tarantino, who has to invent an enlightened white hero, or Steve McQueen, who situates an educated black man in a slavery setting, Parker shows slavery from the perspective of the slaves and demands the liberation of the enslaved consciousness with all of its contradictions and delusions. That is the films biggest strength.


Translation: Elinor Lewy


USA 2016, 110 min
Genre: Biography, Drama, Historical Film
Director: Nate Parker
Author: Nate Parker, Jean McGianni Celestin
DOP: Elliot Davis
Montage: Steven Rosenblum
Music: Henry Jackman
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox of Germany
Cast: Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Junior, Aunjanue Ellis, Armie Hammer, Nate Parker, Penelope Ann Miller, Colman Domingo
FSK: 16
Release: 13.04.2017




  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles
English/with English subtitles
All languages

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