The Birth of a Nation

Critics Consensus

The Birth of a Nation overpowers its narrative flaws and uneven execution through sheer conviction, rising on Nate Parker's assured direction and the strength of its vital message.



Total Count: 254


Audience Score

User Ratings: 15,944
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Movie Info

Set against the antebellum South, THE BIRTH OF A NATION follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner, accepts an offer to use Nat's preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities--against himself and his fellow slaves--Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

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Nate Parker
as Nat Turner
Armie Hammer
as Samuel Turner
Penelope Ann Miller
as Elizabeth Turner
Jackie Earle Haley
as Raymond Cobb
Mark Boone Jr.
as Reverend Zalthall
Aunjanue Ellis
as Nancy Turner
Dwight Henry
as Isaac Turner
Esther Scott
as Bridget Turner
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Critic Reviews for The Birth of a Nation

All Critics (254) | Top Critics (51)

  • Barely a film at all but a pageant.

    Dec 9, 2016 | Rating: 1/5 | Full Review…
  • This is a film that moves with a careful, self-conscious tread.

    Dec 8, 2016 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • The more you think about it, the quicker it falls to pieces.

    Dec 6, 2016 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…
  • Parker's film is at its best when he presents his harrowing story straightforwardly.

    Oct 17, 2016 | Full Review…
  • It is a righteous, religious film that almost bludgeons audiences with its powerful message, and is the product of the one-man-band of Nate Parker, who wrote, directed and plays the lead.

    Oct 11, 2016 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

    Kate Muir

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • A seriously damaged and inadequate movie ... its defects reveal traits of character-arrogance, vanity, and self-importance-that exert an unfortunately strong influence on Parker's directorial choices.

    Oct 10, 2016 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Birth of a Nation

  • Aug 21, 2017
    A polarizing film that I don't think has gotten a fair shake. I liked it and thought it was a powerful film, even if it was a little romanticized and formulaic in some places. To start with, Nate Parker turns in a great performance as Nat Turner, and Aja Naomi King does as well as his wife. The rest of the ensemble cast is strong. The cinematography is beautiful, and Parker captures several beautiful, haunting images, the most indelible one for me coming when Turner notices a white girl skipping across a porch with a black girl skipping behind, playing, and yet on a leash. It's violent, but it also has quite a bit of tenderness, and is effective in showing that the enslaved were thinking, feeling people, just like you and me, and it also honors their culture. Lastly, it's accurate in showing the context for the rebellion (and certainly as accurate as many lauded historical films), and I think its power lies first and foremost in showing us the events unapologetically from an African-American's perspective. Parker uses a bit too much of a heavy hand at times, not uncommon for a first-time director, but this is a film that should be seen, and with an open mind. I think we've become so inured to scenes of brutality that they don't register with us anymore. We see slave owners brutalizing their "property" - human beings - and our reaction starts becoming either (a) oh yes, I've seen all that before, I know, I know, and by the way so-and-so shot it better, or (b) surely he's over-the-top in this scene, shamelessly exaggerating and distorting history. I think we have to acknowledge that these things happened. They happened. Lynchings. Ripping families apart. Rape. Extreme cruelty. Humiliation. Even the most liberal view at the time still believing in the black man's inherent inferiority. And on and on. This was the context of the rebellion. It's almost entirely accurate, or a reasonable portrayal where history is not known, and I forgive it for the places it may not be as artistic license - most notably Turner's own wife being raped, which was scrutinized so much that I think people missed the larger point. We're taught about the glory and honor of the Confederacy in most history classes, and oh yes, by the way, Nat Turner led a bloody rebellion three decades before the Civil War. You're going to tell me that the myth of the noble Southern gentlemen, the slaveowner who took loving care of his ignorant slaves for their own good, is more accurate than what this film shows? You're going to have the one-star reviewers with comments that literally begin with lines like "Not saying slavery was right, but..." and then say racism no longer exists in America? Nat Turner was a man who was highly intelligent, learned to read and write despite having limited educational opportunity, correctly likened slavery of blacks in the south to the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt, and (very) courageously attempted to rebel against extreme injustice. The film gets all these things right. Why do we not see him as a hero in our nation's history? Killing women and children is horrible, but put it in context, and ask, what was happening to Turner and his people before they did that? For centuries. To millions. The name of the film of course disrupts D.W. Griffith and his glorification of white supremacists, but it also makes us pause and think that for a portion of the citizens of our country, July 4, 1776 was not the birth of their nation. They were still in chains, and had not been able to declare independence. It's interesting to think of Turner's rebellion as that seminal moment, as the birth of a new nation, and I would not have thought of any of these things or known as much about him without this film. If it goes too far in depicting him as a 'nice guy', not showing all of those he killed in his uprising or not showing the odder side of his religious visions, well, maybe we should be thinking that a romanticized view is both a reaction to both our current culture, as well as a perspective someone else has that we haven't considered before. Making us think. You know, as artists do.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 18, 2017
    There is great material for a powerful drama here, but director Nate Parker tries too hard to soften it and avoid any controversies regarding his hero's actions - which is a pity considering that they are perfectly understandable in view of the horrible suffering he endures.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Mar 25, 2017
    A pretentious and poorly made biopic, The Birth of a Nation lacks passion and focus. The story follows a slave named Nat Turner who becomes a preacher and ends up leading a rebellion. Unfortunately first time writer/director Nate Parker doesn't do a very good job at developing the character or establishing his motivations. And there are a number of plot holes that makes the storytelling rather clunky. However, the production values are really good, and there are some fairly solid actors in the cast, including Armie Hammer, Jackie Earle Haley, Penelope Ann Miller, and Gabrielle Union. The Birth of a Nation clearly has high aspirations, but it ends up being an incoherent mess.
    Dann M Super Reviewer
  • Jan 03, 2017
    TRAGIC HISTORY - My Review of THE BIRTH OF A NATION (3 1/2 Stars) I've resisted seeing THE BIRTH OF A NATION, actor/writer/director Nate Parker's historical behind retelling of the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner, due to the ugly history surrounding Parker, his co-story writer Jean McGianni Celestin, and the 1999 rape victim who took her own life in 2012. Details of the case appear all over the internet, so I won't document them here, but I personally made the choice to see the film because I didn't spend money to see it, much the same way I won't financially support films by Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Victor Salva or Mel Gibson. Many may avoid MANCHESTER BY THE SEA due to allegations against its star, Casey Affleck. I'm lucky that I have access to films in the manner that I do and respect everyone's choice whether or not to see movies made by filmmakers whose morality or actions they abhor. I even wrestle with reviewing them, as I worry about legitimizing the actions of criminals. I used to work as a Health Educator in the Los Angeles County Jail system, where every day I helped to improve the lives of people accused of terrible crimes. Needless to say, it filled my mind with conflicting thoughts. I concluded that we have a justice system for passing judgment on illegal behavior, and that my job was to lead by example and help my fellow human beings. Applying this logic to film criticism, I decided that certain movies, for me, deserve to be seen despite whatever shortcomings or tragic histories they carry with them. THE BIRTH OF A NATION had an auspicious launch, winning the two top prizes at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and scooped up by Fox Searchlight for a record $17.5 million. It appeared to be on a fast track for financial success and Oscar glory. And then....well you know what happened next...which led to a stunning box office flop. Lost among this is the fact that the film is quite good....flawed for sure...but an essential, harrowing story nonetheless. Born into slavery in Southhampton County, Virginia, Nat Turner (played by Parker) learned to read and write at a young age and eventually preached the Bible to his fellow slaves. Utilizing his skills for nefarious reasons, the slaveowners paid Turner's "master" Samuel (Armie Hammer) to give sermons to their slaves in order to keep them from rebelling. Certain Bible verses call on slaves to obey their Masters. This wouldn't be the first or last time in history that a majority race would use their religious beliefs to justify the subjugation of minority populations. By obeying orders and preaching, Turner witnessed so many atrocities, that he launched an uprising. Quentin Tarantino seems to have cornered the market on revenge fantasies with INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and DJANGO UNCHAINED. As entertaining as they were, nothing can replace the power of a true story. THE BIRTH OF A NATION represents commercial storytelling with a stirring, sometimes horrific, but ennobling tale of people who, against all odds, fought back against their oppressors. Parker's performance is highly empathetic as he expertly navigates one impossibly tough moment after another. It may make people uncomfortable to see the subject of rape portrayed in the film, and one torture scene in particular provided more dental horrors than anything I've seen since MARATHON MAN, but this unflinching look at the realities of slavery impressed me with its no-holds-barred approach. As I said, it's not a perfect film. Parker wrote himself a great part but Turner comes across as a little too perfect at times, whereas the real man reportedly had more complexity. Parker surrounds himself with a fine cast, with especially good work by Jackie Earle Haley as a vicious slave hunter, Aja Naomi King as Turner's wife, and Jayson Warner Smith and Jason Stuart as particularly despicable slaveowners. Hammer does well by insidiously taking his character from empathetic to hateful over the course of the film. Penelope Ann Miller does well in a part very similar to the plantation matriarch played by Sarah Paulson in the artistically superior 12 YEARS A SLAVE. In fact, it's difficult to avoid comparisons between the two films. While Steve McQueen has mastered his use of space and sound in his movies, Parker proves himself skillful but with much to learn. Some cutaways teetered on the edge of pretension or downright silliness such as shots of bleeding corn husks or angel wings straight out of a Victoria's Secret ad, and his directing style feels a little generic at times. Still, it's gorgeously shot by Elliot Davis (OUT OF SIGHT, THE IRON LADY among many others) and some moments, such as the final dissolve through time, pack quite a punch. The uprising sequence doesn't hold back, but it felt strangely truncated. It's a complex moment of release for the audience and could have used a little more TLC. Parker also has to be careful understanding screen space, as one dialogue scene in particular didn't cut together properly because of incorrect placement of actors opposite each other. These are minor quibbles for a film I am glad I saw. World history has often entailed the little guy being trampled on by the small number of people in power. We need to hear about the brave souls who dared stand up to those who enslaved them. There are many current stories that could use the wish fulfillment treatment. I hope in my lifetime, for example, I'm able to see the people of North Korea find freedom from real life, not in a movie. But while we're at it, hey Quentin! Can you get on that and make a better version of it than THE INTERVIEW? Let's see the North Korean people take out Kim Jong Un instead of a couple of Hollywood stoners! Call it THE PEOPLE VS. DEAR LEADER.
    Glenn G Super Reviewer

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