The Birth of a Nation (2016) Movie Review: Not Really a Remake

By: Reel 127 (Two Beers) –

For those of you who don’t know for whatever reason, The Birth of a Nation was a film made literally one hundred years ago (1915). When I first heard that it was getting a remake I was absolutely terrified. When the first trailer was released it took me weeks to get the courage to watch it. When I finally did I had just about the same reaction anyone who had seen the original did. “This isn’t Birth of a Nation. Why does it have the same title?”

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You can just see the similarities already!

Much like World War Z, this new Birth of a Nation only kept the title and that’s it. The Birth of a Nation is the story of Nat Turner and his historic slave rebellion. The film details his life leading up to when he decides to rebel, as well the rebellion and its aftermath.

A Toast

Remember how 12 Years a Slave was hailed for its honest and brutal depiction of slavery? The Birth of a Nation goes to some extremes that 12 Years a Slave wasn’t even willing to reach. I appreciate that this film didn’t try to tone itself down to appeal to a wider audience. Doing so would have only tarnished the message. I appreciated the pacing of the story. It takes the time to build up Nat’s past so that we can understand how he was pushed to this point. This makes when they are killing the slave owner’s more satisfying because it is deserved by that point. And by waiting long enough, the rebellion becomes the climax of the story. Free State of Jones from earlier this year can take a lesson from this movie for how pacing works. Lastly, the score for this film is currently my favorite of the year. The musical cues were just right and would often add another layer to what was being shown.

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The title is an incredibly poor choice. I get that they took the title likely to entice Academy Award voters and because it is a well-known title even for those who haven’t seen the original. But what is the one thing that everyone remembers about the original? The KKK. Almost everyone knows that the original Birth of a Nation glorified the KKK. When the film is about a slave rebellion and showing the horrors of American slavery, it really is a bad decision to give it a title that is automatically associated with the opposite.

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Above: Not at all featured in any way in 2016 version.

I was a tad disappointed when I left the theater. After this won the top awards at the Sundance Film Festival I was very excited to see it. I was hoping that this would be one of my favorites of the year like Whiplash and Fruitvale Station in prior years. While I did enjoy this film plenty I wasn’t saying it was amazing by the time the credits started. I really don’t feel like there was anything that could have been added or removed to drastically change the movie for the better. The Birth of a Nation is just a case of being over-hyped.

Verdict

I would not be surprised to see this film get some nominations and maybe even wins when the Academy Awards come around next year. But its chance at a Best Picture nomination is seeming less likely now. If you are looking for something that is more artistic as the action blockbusters of summer finally come to an end, then this is a good pick. But in all honesty, if you had no intention of seeing this film before then you should stick to that. This is not a film that will surprise you with how good it is and you have to want to see it to enjoy it at all.

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The Birth of a Nation (2016) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: for every person who is hung.

Take a Drink: when a white person becomes aggressive towards a slave for no reason.

Take a Drink: when something makes you look away or want to vomit.

Take a Drink: every time there is weird imagery that has to be Nat’s dream.

Finish Your Drink: when “Strange Fruit” starts playing because of course it’s in this movie.

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