You could cut the tension, buzz and anticipation on the release of this movie with a knife. The film that is written, produced, stars, and is also the directorial debut for Nate Parker. As a fan of Parker’s work I was definitely looking forward to what he would do with a film based on the story of Nat Turner, a slave who rebelled against slave owners. As I write this review, I feel my blood boiling, but I will do my best to remain focused on this movie…
I must say, not a bad debut Mr. Parker, not bad at all. This movie had its flaws, but when it comes to the story of Nat, I enjoyed it. The movie started out a bit weak. It was a little all over the place and I wasn’t the biggest fan of some of the performances, especially by the kid who played young Nat. The movie got better for me when Nate Parker (who is an exceptional actor) arrived on the scene. Parker always exudes the best emotions in any character he plays. That is a remarkable thing to do. I definitely enjoyed him in the role of Nat. However, the film lacked the power I was expecting from the trailer. It was kind of lukewarm throughout the film with jolts of fire. Definitely not like what 12 Years a Slave had you feeling, just in case some of you are looking for that. Besides Parker, many of the other performances were nothing to really praise. Armie Hammer was ok…but he’s always just ok. Gabriel Union is in the cast, but I seriously don’t recall her having a speaking role…so weird. Aja, who played Cherry, wasn’t bad, and I look forward to her in more roles. I also had a major problem with the makeup. Why did they have Aja Naomi King looking like that in her first scene? Was that wig you had on her necessary, was the black face supposed to be dirty? And don’t get me started on the ash around some of the slaves’ mouth. The poor make-up job took away from the movie more than it needed too.
The movie seriously focuses on Nat and religion, which I didn’t have a problem with. As we all know religion was used to keep slaves/people in line. As with Nat’s story, it is the motivating force (among others) for his actions, I believe Parker’s directing could use a little work, but not bad for a debut. I felt the story was a bit rushed in some parts. Like I wish there was more time spent on the organizing of the slaves for the rebellion. That should have been a bigger part of the story.
In response to all the controversy over the rape charges he was acquitted of in 1999 and the plot of rape inaccurately portrayed in film, I will say this…Nate Parker has had a 12yr career and has been in at least 20 films since he was acquitted and I never heard a peep about these charges until 2016. With word of Oscar nominations for this film dredging up dirt on him seems convenient. I can’t be the judge and jury on the charges that were brought against him because he was already trialed for those in 1999. I will however like to point the finger at the media for pretending to care about the alleged victim by bringing up this case just to push your own agenda…shame on you. His first movie role was in 2005, and there was no press for the alleged victim and her case? There is so much focus on a man who was acquitted of charges 17yrs ago, and hardly any press given to Brock Turner and his sexual assault victim. Why is that? As far as the rape that was added in the plot is it really historically inaccurate. It is historically known that slave women were repeatedly raped by their slave owners, and that part of the story is portrayed in every slave film. Unless you can say the rape of black slaves never happened, please do me the favor and have several seats…I’m just going to leave that right there.
All in all I enjoyed Parker’s powerful performance. Parker’s directing could use some work as the story sometimes lost its way. I enjoyed the strong focus on Nat, but felt there were some compelling parts of his story and the rebellion that were left out. I applaud Parker for bringing Nat Turner’s story (one that needs to be told) to the big screen…B+