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Nate Parker
Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Gabrielle Union, Jackie Earle Haley, Penelope Anne Miller
Writing Credits:
Nate Parker

Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher in the antebellum South, orchestrates an uprising.

Box Office:
$8.5 million.
Opening Weekend
$7,004,254 on 2105 Screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Descriptive Audio 5.1
Spanish Dolby 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 120 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 1/10/2017
• Audio Commentary with Actor/Writer/Director Nate Parker
• “Rise Up” Documentary
• 2 Deleted Scenes
• “The Making of a Movement” Featurette
#AmeriCAN Short Film
• “Free God” Spoken Word
• “Celebration of Independent Voices” Featurette
• Shooting Script
• Gallery
• Previews and Trailers


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


The Birth of a Nation [Blu-Ray] (2016)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 15, 2017)

Some films benefit from a touch of controversy, but that didn’t prove to be the case for 2016’s The Birth of a Nation. Going into its release, the movie enjoyed a terrific reputation and seemed primed for massive awards love at the very least. However, writer/director/actor Nate Parker’s past came back to haunt him, as renewed publicity about a 1999 rape accusation threatened to overwhelm the picture’s release.

As it stands, Birth earned a poor $15 million in the US and earned good but not great reviews. Would matters have been different without the notes about Parker’s history? We’ll never know, but at the very least, those issues seemed to make it much tougher for critics and audiences to embrace the film.

Set in the 1800s, Nat Turner grows up as a slave on the Turner plantation, and as an adult, Nat (Parker) works under owner Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer). Raised in a relatively nurturing environment, Nat learned to read, and he shows talent as a preacher.

Strapped for cash, Samuel hires out Nat to preach in attempts to calm unruly slaves. As he witnesses brutal abuses, Nat eventually builds an agenda in his mind and launches a rebellion.

Inevitably, Birth draws comparisons to 2013’s Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave. While the earlier film earned consistent plaudits, I found myself turned off by its unrelenting misery, as the non-stop pain and suffering battered the viewer in a way that perversely suppressed an emotional response.

The same doesn’t hold true for Birth, a movie that contains brutal sequences but not in the same way as Years. In my mind, that works to Birth’s credit, as the movie enjoys a broader array of emotions and builds toward Nat’s eruption.

Really, that was a big issue with Years: it started at 11, so it lacked much room to grown emotionally. Birth avoids that trap, as it moves gradually and lets us see Nat’s gradual path toward insurrection.

I appreciate the slow build, as this allows the film to invest us in the characters without raw sentiment attached. While Birth doesn’t sugarcoat circumstances, it also doesn’t revel in abuse, so we dig into the participants without the visceral revulsion that might distract us.

Parker uses the time well and allows Nat and the others to develop in a natural manner. Because he grows up in a fairly benign environment, Nat’s tale lulls the audience into a slight sense of security. No, we don’t ever lose our distaste for slavery, but the essential absence of real ugliness gives us a feel for Nat’s existence.

This makes matters much more impactful when Nat’s path shows real brutality, and scenes that might’ve blended with the scenery in Years become more disturbing here. For instance, we see a man literally knock out the teeth of a slave who refuses to eat. Because we’ve not already been exposed to lots of graphic violence, this quick sequence delivers a terrible impact – just as designed.

While it shows the path to rebellion well, Birth falters when it comes to actual history. In particular, it “tidies up” the scope of Nat’s insurrection, as it fails to show that the violence led to indiscriminate slaughter that included women and children.

Instead, Birth opts for easy targets, white men who “had it coming” – like the slave hunter (Jackie Earle Haley) set up early in the film as Requisite Bad Guy. The second we meet the Cobb character, we know he’ll die, and the movie builds him in a way intended to push audience buttons.

To some degree, I can accept the absence of the uglier side of the rebellion, as it seems clear Parker intends to use these events more as metaphor than as literal truth. Still, because Nat’s armed revolt did happen, a debt to facts exists, and the choice to hide the crueler aspects seems unfortunate.

Still, even without that historical perspective, Birth becomes a fairly powerful tale. It allows us to invest in its characters and understand their actions. Some parts of it falter but the overall message hits home.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

The Birth of a Nation appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. . I found no notable problems with this presentation.

Colors tended toward teal, along with some amber and orange. These stylistic choices worked fine, as the hues seemed appropriate for the selected palette. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows showed nice clarity.

Sharpness was solid. Virtually no softness materialized, so overall delineation came across well. Jaggies and shimmering were absent, and edge haloes weren’t a factor. No signs of source flaws emerged either. Across the board, this was a pleasing transfer.

Despite its character orientation, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack allowed for occasional sequences with more vivacity. Music showed nice stereo presence, and a few scenes opened up the environment in a satisfying manner.

The track became liveliest as the rebellion progressed, so lots of violence filled the speakers in a dynamic manner. These gave the soundscape dimensionality and created a good setting for the events.

Audio quality was strong. Speech always came across as natural and distinctive, with no signs of edginess or reediness. Music sounded lush and warm, while effects – as minor as they usually were – appeared accurate enough. At no point did this threaten to become a superior soundscape, but it seemed better than average for a film of this sort.

The Blu-ray comes with a long roster of extras, and these launch with an audio commentary from actor/writer/director Nate Parker. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion of research and the history behind the movie’s events, story/characters, cast and performances, cinematography, production design and music, and general reflections on the project.

With his commentary, Parker relates the passion that led him to the film, but he doesn’t tell us a ton about the actual production. Though we get a decent overview, I don’t feel like we learn a whole lot about the film. This becomes an earnest but not especially interesting discussion.

A National Geographic Channel documentary called Rise Up: The Legacy of Nat Turner runs 47 minutes, 13 seconds and includes notes from Parker, actor/filmmaker Roger Guenveur Smith, Turner descendants Evelyn Sykes Hawkins, Joyce Turner Lewis, Vivian Claude Lucas and Bruce Turner, UNC Professor of History and Law Alfred Brophy, Widener University Associate Professor of History Sarah Roth, Breaking the Cycle Consultation Services’ Brian Favors, Frederick Douglass’ 3rd great grandson Kenneth B. Morris Jr., National Museum of African-American History and Culture Director of Curatorial Affairs Rex Ellis, historical archaelogist Dr. Kelley Fanto Deetz, Mott Hall Bridges Academy principal Nadia Lopez, slave descendant Michael Twitty, and county clerk Rick Francis.

“Rise” looks at Nat Turner’s life as well as aspects of his insurrection and its aftermath/legacy. Parts of this work well, but the program lacks great focus and doesn’t tell the material in the clearest manner. It also occasionally feels like an ad for Birth, so it ends up as an erratic program.

Two deleted scenes appear: “’Go Home’” (1:21) and “Interrogation” (2:08). Both appear late in the film and relay events connected to the insurrection. The scenes offer minor intrigue but don’t stand out as memorable.

We can watch the scenes with or without commentary from Parker. He tells us about the sequences and why he cut them. Parker delivers rudimentary information about the clips.

Next comes The Making of a Movement. In this 41-minute, 46-second piece, we hear more from Parker. “Making” looks at the movie’s origins and Parker’s development process as well as his choice to write and direct it, financial issues, cast and crew, story/character areas and history, and some shooting specifics.

With “Making”, Parker gives us a pretty good overview. He focuses better than he does during the commentary and delivers a nice array of subjects. I’d still like to know more details about the actual production, but this still becomes a quality look at the film.

After this we get a short film entitled #AmeriCAN. Including a three-minute, 51-second intro from Parker, it goes for 18 minutes, 33 seconds and provides a reaction to the police-oriented violence that impacts African-American youngsters. While not the most subtle piece, it provides an interesting conversation starter.

The short film offers more optional commentary from Parker. He tells us what prompted him to make #AmeriCAN and his goals for it. Parker doesn’t relate much about the actual production but he gives some insights about his hopes for the project.

Under “Free God”, we get a six-minute, 28-second Spoken Word piece. It provides a spoken word performance from Jazmine Williams and Kyland Turner. While I appreciate its passion, I don’t think it’s especially impactful.

Celebration of Independent Voices lasts four minutes, 38 seconds and features Parker. He chats about the movie and its reflections on modern racism. It’s a decent clip but we get similar thoughts elsewhere, so it feels redundant.

We also find the film’s shooting script. This uses a still-frame format to display the entire screenplay. I wish more Blu-rays offered features of this sort, as I think it’s cool to see.

A Gallery offers 33 images. These photos mix movie shots with behind the scenes elements. They add a few good elements.

The disc opens with ads for Hidden Figures, Papa Hemingway in Cuba and Rules Don’t Apply. We also find three trailers for Birth.

A second disc provides a DVD copy of Birth. It includes the commentary, “Rise Up” and the gallery.

Some parts of The Birth of a Nation falter, but the movie offers enough power to overcome these flaws. Though it can present faulty history, it reaches to the heart of matters to become an emotional experience. The Blu-ray brings us good picture and audio as well as a long roster of bonus materials. It falls short of greatness but Birth still deserves attention.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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