The Birth of a Nation (2016)

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Birth of a Nation (2016) Movie Poster Image
Stirring, provocative, flawed, bloody slave-revolt story.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 110 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Very complex messages. It's easy to root for Nat Turner to stand up against his oppressors, but he does so through violence -- and then violence begets violence, and revenge leads to more revenge.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Turner has undoubtedly earned his place in history, and the movie paints him as a hero for taking power when he was absolutely powerless. Although his efforts were devastatingly violent and resulted in more bloodshed, he did send a message.

Violence

Extremely strong, bloody violence. A character is beaten off screen; her terrible wounds are shown. A woman is raped off screen. More beatings, as well as fighting, shooting, stabbing, blood spurts, gore, bloody wounds and injuries. A gory corpse is seen. Slaves are whipped, beaten with blunt objects, and tied up and tortured, with mouth shackles, teeth knocked out, etc. Severed heads. Men are hanged from trees. Nightmare scenes.

Sex

Sex scene includes a topless woman. Topless women also seen in an African tribal scene.

Language

Many uses of the "N" word, plus "s--t," "hell," "goddamn," and the word "bastard" is nearly said.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Secondary characters smoke and drink and are shown to be pathetically drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Birth of a Nation is a highly anticipated but controversial drama about Nat Turner, who entered the history books after igniting a bloody slave revolt in 1830. While it's undeniable that Turner's actions sent a message against oppression, the fact that he relied on violence makes things more complex. And the movie is extremely violent. Characters are beaten and/or raped (happens largely off screen, but the effects of the violence are shown), and there's fighting, shooting, stabbing, and more, with lots of blood and gore, in many forms. Slaves are also whipped, hung, and tortured. Topless women are seen in both a sexual context (love scene) and non-sexual one (African tribal scene). Language includes many uses of the "N" word, plus "hell" and "goddamn." Secondary characters are shown smoking and drinking/drunk. But parents who watch with older teens will find that there's lots to talk about after the credits roll.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAmanda F. October 10, 2016

Unfair Details about the film.

While this film is rated-R, it is not nearly as graphic as the original writer makes it seem. There is not a "sex scene" as they make it sound, only a... Continue reading
Adult Written byCassie I. February 3, 2017

its a good it

Its a good movie because its a true story and if you read your bible he is telling everybody that we was cursed it tells u that in deu 28:25 we as black people... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old October 11, 2016

Bloody, intense slave revolt is nothing new but brilliant, interesting, extremely violent.

My rating:R for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality/nudity.

What's the story?

In THE BIRTH OF A NATION, living on a Southern cotton plantation, young Nat Turner dreams of his African ancestors. His white mistress learns he can read and gives him a Bible. Years later, the grown Nat (Nate Parker) falls in love with a new slave, Cherry (Aja Naomi King), and they marry. Meanwhile, Nat's master, Samuel (Armie Hammer), decides to make extra money by taking Nat to neighboring plantations to preach to the other slaves. There Nat sees the horrifying ways that other slaves are treated. When Cherry crosses paths with a sadistic white man (Jackie Earle Haley), and another slave's wife is given to a white guest as a plaything, Nat begins sowing the seeds of rebellion. His violent, bloody uprising -- which leads to the deaths of 60 white people -- will go down in history in THE BIRTH OF A NATION, even though an even more violent revenge is coming.

Is it any good?

Making his feature directing debut, Parker audaciously re-uses the name of D.W. Griffith's infamous, controversial 1915 movie -- and the result is just as significant, rousing, and imperfect. At times, The Birth of a Nation is positively brilliant, with a power like a punch to the gut. But at other times, it wallows in common cliches and routine choices. A populist movie positioned as a work of art, it's more Braveheart than 12 Years a Slave. It's an inflamed crowd-pleaser, more likely to inspire howls and cheers than thoughtful discussion. (It doesn't reach the greatness of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.)

Yet the choice of title suggests that Parker -- previously an actor in The Great Debaters and Beyond the Lights -- had at least some idea of the buttons he was pushing. He populates his movie with white characters who disproportionately awful: bad teeth, stupid, evil, violent, dirty. But it's hard to argue that, after a century's worth of black stereotypes in movies, his choices are unwarranted. Whether this Birth of a Nation earns a place in cinematic history like Griffith's remains to be seen, but hopefully it will at least raise questions that Americans will take the time to answer.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Birth of a Nation's intense violence. How does it compare to what you might see in a big Hollywood action/superhero movie? Which has more impact? Why?

  • Is Nat Turner a hero? A role model? Do you think his use of violence was justified? What were the consequences? How does historical perspective frame the way we look at his actions today? Do you think he had any other options?

  • Does the movie reinforce or undermine any stereotypes? How does it compare to other movies you may have seen about slavery in American history?

  • Does the controversy surrounding director/star Nate Parker (he was accused of rape in college and later acquitted) affect your opinion of the movie? If so, how? Is it possible to judge art separately from the artists who create it?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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