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The Star Late Edition - - TONIGHT -

AM Turner’s ch­est leaves a trail of blood on the wooden floor. He uses his el­bows to crawl, slowly, into the hall­way and away from the bed where Nat Turner (Parker), the slave he in­her­ited from his fa­ther, has just taken an axe to his body.

The lines made by the blood of Sam (Ham­mer) would make both Jack­son Pol­lock and Quentin Tarantino blush. But that art is sec­ond only to some­thing that rests be­tween Nat, on his feet, star­ing Sam, on the ground, down.

That some­thing is an im­age of a white cross il­lu­mi­nated on stained glass.

Al­though we are about half­way through The Birth of a Na­tion – which is set in the 1800s and based on a true life story – that mo­ment is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause both these men’s fates meet at the cross.

Upon dis­cov­er­ing that a young Nat can ac­tu­ally read, Sam’s mom snatches the boy from the care of his mother, Nancy (El­lis) and grand­mother, Brid­get (Scott) and moves him into the slave­mas­ter’s house. He is barred from read­ing any­thing but the Bi­ble and is quickly groomed into a preacher who also picks cot­ton six days a week.

Sam, on the other hand, doesn’t care much for the Gospel un­less it’s putting a coin into his cof­fers. In­stead of the Bi­ble, Sam rests his faith in the priv­i­lege the colour of his skin buys him and the pro­tec­tion the church af­fords slave own­ers whose prop­erty can multi-task.

As his­tory tells us, that mo­ment when all Nat and Sam have be­tween them is the cross be­comes the be­gin­ning of a slave re­bel­lion – led by Nat – that re­sults in the mas­sacre of about 65 white peo­ple. In re­tal­i­a­tion, about 200 black peo­ple are killed.

This film, not to be con­fused with the films that were re­leased in 1915 and 1983, un­folds in two parts. The first is the ge­n­e­sis of Nat’s re­al­i­sa­tion that he has a gift for in­ter­pret­ing the word for his peo­ple. The sec­ond part is the rev­e­la­tion that he should be us­ing it to free them. A scene from an Amer­i­can pe­riod drama based on the story of Nat Turner, who led a slave re­bel­lion in Vir­ginia in 1831.

As Parker tells us – through Nat speak­ing to the five fel­low slaves he starts the rev­o­lu­tion with: “Slaves all over are hav­ing meet­ings. They wait­ing on some­thing. They wait­ing on us.” It’s dif­fi­cult to sep­a­rate this dec­la­ra­tion – said fire­side on a dark night for dra­matic ef­fect – from Parker’s own sen­ti­ments.

Parker stars as the mes­siah whose com­ing all slaves have been wait­ing for. But he also di­rected, pro­duced, co-wrote the story and the screen­play and pro­vided the cater­ing. Okay, so we’re jok­ing about the food, but Parker’s saviour com­plex re­ally led him to have a hand in ev­ery­thing to do with this film.

By now, you have prob­a­bly heard the al­le­ga­tions that Parker and his friend and The Birth of a Na­tion co-writer, Jean McGianni Ce­lestin, raped a woman when they were in col­lege. The woman killed her­self in the 17 years since the al­leged in­ci­dent oc­curred. This mat­ter resur­faced just as Parker was about to de­but his big­gest Hol­ly­wood mo­ment.

It’s chal­leng­ing to not go into the cin­ema with that ac­cu­sa­tion in mind. Es­pe­cially be­cause rape in the slave era was com­mon­place. But if you can man­age it, you will see that the film is rich with thought­pro­vok­ing im­agery.

The weight of the mes­sage car­ried through a shot of a pair of kids play­ing – with a white girl lead­ing a black girl on a noose-turnedleash – is jux­ta­posed with their smil­ing faces and whim­si­cal mu­sic.

Speak­ing of mu­sic, if you can, for a mo­ment, sus­pend the idea that the man on the big screen in front of you was ac­cused of rape, you’ll hear some­thing more chill­ing. It’s in­cred­i­bly pre­dictable to in­sert Nina Si­mone’s ver­sion of Strange Fruit into a film about slaves, but here it is placed in a sig­nif­i­cant, richly tex­tured spot.

If you can look be­yond what’s hap­pen­ing in the real world, you will also see that the only thing hold­ing the world on cel­lu­loid back is Parker him­self. The Birth of a Na­tion is ob­vi­ously the great work of his life (up un­til now any­way). And he was in­tent on be­com­ing a ha­giog­ra­pher that would also be rel­e­vant in a post-Black Lives Mat­ter world.

But then he should’ve just di­rected the movie. Parker’s Nat con­stantly has a pained ex­pres­sion on his face, even when he is telling his wife, Cherry (a role in which King shines) sweet noth­ings and ex­press­ing joy. It’s not an un­der­ly­ing pain, ei­ther.

It’s grit­ted teeth, lip curled up on one side and cry­ing eyes – all the time. And he’s in the film – you guessed it – all the time. King, El­lis (when will she stop play­ing a slave, though?) and even Gabrielle Union, are strong ac­tresses be­cause of their skilled re­straint.

But Parker may have crossed his heart, hoped for the best and wasn’t able to see where he erred be­cause he was the mes­siah he’d been await­ing. While this is not nec­es­sar­ily his death knell, Parker didn’t make a be­liever out of me.

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