Has anyone else seen The Birth of a Nation? (2016) *sigh* There are quite a few problems with this film:
1. Black women are largely absent – unless they are being raped, beaten, or in need of protection from black men. At no point in the film are black women seen rebelling or assisting with the rebellion. The character played by Gabrielle Union does not utter more than one sentence in the entire film. Instead, the fact that she was raped was used to radicalize her husband into rebelling. Black women were shown either accepting their conditions or taking care of their womanly duties as black men fought to free everyone.
2. The film assigns far too much value to the typical “black sellout” angle. Viewers are led to believe that the entire rebellion was undermined by a young black child named Jasper, who decided to snitch to white folks at the last minute. In spite of the fact that this whole angle is fabricated, the directors spend the remainder of the movie fixating on Jasper.
3. The rebellion is collapsed into a neat, tidy, and non-threatening American progress narrative. The final scene shows Jasper shedding a tear after Nat Turner was killed. Viewers are then showed a much older version of Jasper fighting in the Union Army of the Civil War. Right before the credits roll, Jasper fires a shot as an American flag waves proudly in the background.
The Nat Turner rebellion was a revolt against anti-blackness; the Civil War was a battle to preserve white unity, irrespective of black freedom. The two are not the same. Juxtaposing the rebellion to the Civil War sends a couple of messages. First, it draws a ridiculous connection between the two for the sake of diluting and containing the specter of black revolution – thus making white people feel safe. Second, it says that there is only one legitimate path to freedom: that which is fought on behalf of America/whites/non-blackness. By closing the film with a celebration of Jasper’s presence in the Union Army, the directors argue that the rebellion was illegitimate because it lacked the same moral legitimacy as the Civil War.
There are some gems in the film, though – like the ways religion is used to oppress people, and how it might be used to fight against one’s oppressor.
But overall, the film does not have revolutionary potential. It simply condemns and re-imagines black struggle from a comfortable white perspective.