(Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Overseers to Officers
In the classic rap song “Sound of Da Police,” KRS-One stated, “Take the word overseer, like a sample, Repeat it very quickly in a crew for example,
“Overseer, Overseer, Overseer, Overseer,
“Officer, Officer, Officer, Officer!
“Yeah, officer from overseer, You need a little clarity, Check out the similarity!
“The overseer rode around the plantation, The officer is off patrolling all the nation.”
Although few, if any, would compare the days of slavery to the 21st century, there are some similarities unfortunately.
Overseers and plantation owners could punish and kill African-Americans with impunity during slavery.
Now, it seems police officers can punish and kill African-Americans with impunity.
And just like films “Straight Outta Compton” and “Fruitvale Station” had perfect timing when they hit the theaters with stories of police brutality, “The Birth of a Nation” hits theaters with perfect timing as many have started to revolt against a sometimes oppressive and corrupt system.
From the beginning, Nat Turner (Nate Parker) was a special human being.
During African rituals celebrated at the time of his birth, the forefathers of the community recognized his vision and traits as a leader.
Even the slave owners recognized his intelligence, allowing him to read and study the Bible in hopes of making him a preacher.
Despite his manners and etiquette learned while studying in the big house, Nat has an innate rebellious side.
His father has to flee the family in the dark of night after he is caught stealing food.
To cover up for his father’s transgressions, Nat learns from his mother and grandmother how to “act” in order to not raise suspicions from the slave owners.
That same cunning is what leads him to encourage his former childhood friend and current owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer, “The Social Network”) to purchase a young lady on the auction block named Cherry (Aja Naomi King, “How to Get Away With Murder”).
Nat is immediately smitten by Cherry’s beauty, and despite taking her hand in “marriage” and starting a family, Cherry is sold off to a nearby plantation.
Nat’s skills as a preacher gains him “employment” going from plantation to plantation preaching to slaves, hoping to quell any fears that the local Whites in Southampton County, Va. have of a slave rebellion.
However, after viewing the atrocities that other slaves endure like getting all of their teeth knocked out for refusing to eat and seeing Cherry after she is brutally raped changes his outlook on life.
In “The Birth of a Nation,” Nat receives a sign from God that it is time for a rebellion against the local Whites and no one is immune from their wrath.
While “The Birth of a Nation” is not quite as good as “12 Years a Slave,” Parker writes and directs a beautiful portrait of a hero, bringing his humanity forward off the pages of the history books.
“12 Years a Slave” was brutal in its depiction of the violence that slaves endured.
“The Birth of a Nation” saves moviegoers from many of the graphic images that “12 Years a Slave” depicted.
If cotton fields did not represent such a horrific time in the history of African-Americans, moviegoers would say how beautiful the aerial shot of the Virginia cotton fields are.
Parker does not rush into the rebellion, but sets up his story brilliantly, showing the humanity of the slaves and the devastation they endure at the hands of their oppressor.
“The Birth of a Nation” is perfect in two regards.
It squashes the notion that many Americans have that slaves were content and docile, never fighting back against their oppressors.
Secondly, it shows that people cannot turn the other cheek forever, and will soon lash out if they do not see any justice, which is being seen with the violent revolt in Charlotte.
Parker is brilliant, and should receive an Oscar nomination if his past rape allegation does not overshadow the film.
King becomes Cherry and is almost unrecognizable at first.
Hammer shows the complexity of many Black-White friendships of the past.
Samuel and Nat are basically best friends as children.
But “Master Turner” becomes a typical tyrant of a plantation owner, with seemingly no recollection of their childhood closeness.
Unfortunately, “The Birth of a Nation” does take a little too long to get to the rebellion in the same way that “Titanic” took too long to get to its climax.
The rebellion in “The Birth of a Nation” should have played out a little longer.
But the film does show parallels to modern society.
No matter what the overseer or officer does, it is seen by some in society as right.
And no matter what a person of color does to fight for his or her humanity, it is seen as wrong or unpatriotic.
Like KRS-One stated, “The overseer could stop you what you’re doing, The officer will pull you over just when he’s pursuing,
“The overseer had the right to get ill, And if you fought back, the overseer had the right to kill, The officer has the right to arrest and if you fight back they put a hole in your chest!”