As a Torontonian, attending at least one screening at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is almost a must-do. Each year, there are dozens of films brought to the city and screened over a period of 10 days. My mom was able to find tickets to the 3p.m. screening of “Birth of a Nation” on September 17th.
Amidst some controversy over director, screenplay writer, and lead actor Nate Parker, this film brought an important and very emotional lesson on American history during the 1800’s. It follows the story of Nate Turner, a slave in Virginia. Nate stands out amongst the slaves on his plantation as he is able to read and becomes the plantation preacher. His master (Sam), whom he was friends with as a child, is offered a deal to save his plantation: bring Nate to various plantations around the county to preach the word of God to other slaves in exchange for money from other slave owners. Throughout his visits, Nate and Sam see the way different slaves get treated and Nate becomes disgusted by what he sees. This would later on inspire his rebellion against the slave masters.
Based on a true story, Nate Parker learned about Turner during his studies and decided to write the screenplay to tell his story. Parker is incredibly powerful as Turner, standing up for himself and his fellow slaves when he needs to, and remaining silent and not striking back when he knows he can’t. We see the development of Turner from obedient slave to rebellious leader in a powerful way that keeps you cheering for him. Parker captures that change brilliantly. You can tell that during his studies of Turner, Parker was able to really know who Turner was and what lead to his rebellion.
This cast was perfect, powerful, and brave. I imagine filming some of the scenes was a difficult endeavour due to the content, but it was incredibly done regardless. One actress who stood out and surprised me was Aja Naomi King, she played Nate’s wife Cherry, but I immediately recognized her as Michaela from “How to Get Away with Murder.” I was certainly not used to seeing King perform with this kind of emotion and power. It made me happy to see her shine in a role outside the one I’ve come to know her as.
This film will be released to the general public in October of this year. While I know that due to the content, it may not be a “blockbuster smash,” I certainly hope that people will give it the respect it deserves and watch it. Learn about a fraction of what the poor slaves in the Southern U.S. encountered. It is an important film to watch and for that, I give it a 4.5/5 rating.